I believe women – and men. Why would they lie about enduring any form of domestic violence or intimate partner psychological abuse? It’s not a claim that is glamorous, one that will gather them Instagram influencer status or endorsements from their favorite sneaker brand.
It’s a claim that is shrouded in shame, fear and lifelong trauma. It is why millions of people hide this secret and have found #MeToo a liberating tool that is changing the power dynamics of abuse and offering support when they are ready to claim their truth. When it’s real.
For her sake, I don’t want it to be true that Elizabeth Holmes suffered psychological, emotional and physical abuse by Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, her companion and business partner in the fraudulent firm Theranos. No one should endure that pain.
The 'battered woman' defense
As a woman who experienced cyclical physical abuse during a nine-year marriage to a charming, successful man everyone thought was perfect – and wrote the truth about it – I feel conflicted about Holmes’ abuse defense at her trial.
For the estimated 1 in 3, or 43.6 million, women in this country who will experience sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, I really don’t want her story to be false. It would hand a get-out-of-jail free card to every abuser who taunts their partner with, “No one will believe you.”
While I heartily endorse and advocate for every person’s right to share their truth, it would be morally reprehensible for Holmes to make such claims simply as a way to extricate herself from a legal mess and possibly 20 years in prison.
In a criminal trial that began last week, Holmes faces 12 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, stemming from allegations that the blood testing empire once valued at $9 billion was a total lie and that she knew she was deceiving investors, the medical community and every person who hoped for answers from a simple blood test.
Elizabeth Holmes' trial: Is Elizabeth Holmes’ domestic abuse defense the ultimate con?
Balwani denies Holmes’ stories of psychological abuse and control, including that he threw hard, sharp objects at her. Balwani called her claims “salacious and inflammatory accusations” in a successful February 2020 motion to separate their fraud trials. His trial begins in January.
Abuse claims should not be decoys
While a cottage industry supports the growing club of men who need to defend themselves against reportedly false domestic violence accusations (including the latest inductee, tennis superstar Alexander Zverev), the truth is most victims do not report acts of domestic violence, sexual violence or abuse. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center's 2012 report shows that 63% of assaults are never reported and that false reporting rates are between 2% and 10%.
If Holmes is telling the truth, then her coming forward embodies the reality that domestic violence affects women – and men – of all identities, races, ages, backgrounds, socioeconomic realities, orientations, religions and belief systems. Yes, even powerful women like Holmes can experience intimate partner violence.
In this scenario, Holmes would demonstrate that those of us who have experienced harm at the hands of someone who claimed to love us can recreate a life that is completely new and unscarred by violence.
She has seemingly done this with her new husband, Billy Evans, and their newborn son, William Holmes Evans. If exonerated and de-vilified, Holmes could retreat from this tragic episode of her life at home on the 74-acre Green Gables estate in California with the heir to the Evans Hotel Group chain and their baby.
But if she fabricated her abuse claims, then she is retraumatizing and restigmatizing the millions of us who risked so much to dare to come forward and tell the truth out loud. If untrue, Holmes' “battered woman defense” for her crimes will make it demonstrably more difficult for anyone’s abuse narrative to be believed.
Michele Weldon is an author, journalist, emerita faculty at Northwestern University and senior leader with The OpEd Project. Her latest book is "Act Like You’re Having A Good Time."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: On Elizabeth Holmes, I hope Theranos founder isn't lying about abuse