If you listen to Christian conservative radio and television long enough, you can take it to the bank that most of what you hear will be tone-deaf and unhinged. But even with those low expectations in mind, one of the religious right’s most vocal women did something on Thursday that went well beyond the pale. She actually said–with a straight face–that we shouldn’t believe women who say they are victims of domestic violence.
When most religious right watchers think of American Family Radio, they think of its afternoon host, Bryan Fischer. But morning drive-time host Sandy Rios has had her share of unhinged moments as well. Among other things, she suggested an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia because the engineer was gay. She also loudly questioned Khizr Khan’s patriotism after he blasted Donald Trump at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and suggested he might be a closet jihadist.
But Rios really outdid herself on the Thursday edition of “Sandy Rios in the Morning.” While discussing the allegations that former White House staff secretary Rob Porter physically abused his first wife and emotionally abused his second, Rios veered into full-blown victim-shaming. People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch got a clip.
At around the 29:30 mark of the show, Rios gave her listeners a synopsis of the Porter scandal. Rios recalled that Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, was forced to get a protective order against Porter when he kicked the door in. When she finally left her marriage, she was so emotionally beaten down that it took her years to recover. She also repeated Porter’s claim that he actually took the now-infamous picture of his first wife, Colbie Holderness, after she claimed he threw her on a bed in an Italian hotel and punched her.
Did Rios offer words of comfort to Holderness and Willoughby? Nope. Not even close.
“I just don’t think you can trust women now when they say they’re being abused. I have a total mistrust. We saw this happen with Justice (Roy) Moore. I understand there are abusive relationships, but on a scale of one to 10 there’s a lot of variance, is there not?”
Rios said that marriages can normally get emotional, which led her to downplay emotional abuse. While she maintained that there was no defensible reason for a man to ever hit a woman, she didn’t think a man “hitting their fists” or “knocking in a door” was cause for alarm. No, no–it’s just “what men do when they are mad.” She harrumphed that Holderness and Willoughby’s stories seemed mild compared to what she’d heard in the past from women who had been beaten bloody. As she saw it, the Porter story was just an attempt to divert public attention from the “incredible attempt” to undermine Trump and the system at large.
There is so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to start. As someone who was married to an emotionally abusive and controlling woman for three years, I can say from experience that Rios is full of it when she suggests that emotional abuse isn’t in the same ballpark as physical abuse. Like Willoughby, I was completely beaten down when I finally got out, and it took two to three years for me to recover.
And Willoughby didn’t just have to endure kicked-in doors. She claims that Porter frequently screamed and cursed at her, and his put-downs wore her down to the point that she miscarried in 2013. Having had to endure three years of screaming, put-downs, and F-bombs, I know how Willoughby must have felt. It’s part of the reason why I was literally shaking with anger when I heard this screed from Rios.
It’s also what makes Rios’ suggestion that we can’t trust women who say they’ve been abused all the more obscene. This kind of talk is one of the biggest reasons–perhaps THE biggest–why victims of domestic violence don’t come forward for years, if at all. And all too often, their church families, rather than be among the first people to lift them up, instead kick them in the teeth and several other places.
As tone-deaf as Rios’ sentiment is by itself, it’s especially so considering that Holderness and Willoughby say that Mormon bishops didn’t believe them or step in to help when they were married to Porter. Willoughby claims that a bishop told her that coming forward could hurt Porter’s career track, while Holderness says that she didn’t really know how bad her situation was until she went to a secular counselor. And it’s even more so when you consider that Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to claim that Larry Nassar abused her, says that her church threw her overboard when she came forward.
Put yourself in the shoes of a woman in an abusive relationship or marriage, and happened to hear this on the radio or online. What if that woman wanted to get out and/or come forward, and felt discouraged after hearing this claptrap? The mere thought this could happen is too damn obscene for words.
Rios’ bosses at the American Family Association have maintained that AFR, and AFA as a whole, are a “free speech zone” within the limits of evangelical Christianity. Well, no evangelical organization worth its salt should have any tolerance for victim shaming. It cannot be repeated enough–this sort of talk is what keeps people in abusive relationships, and what keeps victims from coming forward.
Regardless of where you stand politically, victim shaming of this sort is not acceptable. The signal must go out to the AFA–Rios has to go, and she has to go now. Sign this petition telling AFA president Tim Wildmon to fire Rios immediately.
(featured image courtesy Rios’ Facebook)