How Alleged Abusers' Wives Can Help Their Case, According to PR Experts

What's a spouse got to do with it?

Viewers may have been asking themselves this question on Monday night as Brett Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley Estes Kavanaugh, sat down for their first televised interview since two women — Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez — came forward with individual allegations of sexual assault against Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

Rather than answering for the allegations on his own, Kavanaugh appeared alongside his wife to speak with Fox News's Martha MacCallum ​​​​​​about his character, specifically dating back to when he was in high school and college, when the alleged incidents took place. (Kavanaugh, who said he was a virgin in high school, noted of his youth, "The vast majority of the time I spent in high school was studying or focused on sports and being a good friend to the boys and the girls that I was friends with." He has continued to deny the allegations.)

But still, why bring Ashley into the conversation if she had nothing to do with the alleged incidents?

Kavanaugh isn't the first man to bring his wife into the fold, of course. There was Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Clarence Thomas and more high profile men with sex scandals before him. But according to Stacy Jones, CEO of celebrity branding agency Hollywood Branded, bringing wives or S.O.'s into the spotlight "absolutely helps soften the look of the accused."

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"It makes the man more relatable, it reminds people that the individual is also more than just the public figure of focus – a family man, someone who should be trusted as after all, a woman has found the individual to not be offensive – she married him!" she says. "Women are able to ground the picture, to provide that softness, and to be a stabilizing force that appeals to the public."

Of course, there is always a risk for the wife when she chooses to relinquish her (relative) anonymity and establish herself as yet another part of the accuser's image to be scrutinized. "The very gossipy public who is quick to judge, and asks 'why would you stand by this man,' 'how could you marry this man' – except 'this man' is removed and words are replaced such as 'this rapist,' 'this cheater,' 'this philanderer,' 'the drugger,' 'this whatever' the man is being accused of, thought of in the roughest and most vulgar of terminology," says Jones.

But even the criticism of the wife — who may be labeled as complicit or anti-feminist — can strengthen the case of the accused. "The course of action if the wife ends up getting attacked, which is pretty much guaranteed, is to have the legal team and publicist bring in more friends and family members – not of the husband, but this time to vouch for the wife, in order to help re-establish her as a voice of reason," says Jones.

"This is when a statement by the accused’s attorney that the wife is not the subject of accusations is typically made, and that the need is to keep the focus on the matter at hand," she continues. "It also helps in re-focusing the public’s conversation on perhaps a less harsher level than was previously directed at her husband."

It is of note that the spouse is an individual, of course, and thus capable of making her own choices — but there is often an initial expectation that she will support her husband, especially "to demonstrate to her own children that their father who they so greatly love and is their role model, is not a man to be simply cast aside," says Jones. But she can also choose to reverse her course. "[Divorce] is always an option at the end of the day."

Brett Kavanaugh
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Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, agrees that bringing the spouse into the equation can help humanize the accused, especially if they are credible and sympathetic, "but if there are multiple allegations, the spouse’s power is decimated."

In the end, can a spouse actually change anyone's minds if they've already chosen a side? Maybe not. "[A spouse] can sway and influence those who are undecided," says Schiffer, "but for those whose mind are already made up it tends to amplify the feeling about the guilt or innocence."

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