Senator Joni Ernst (R, Iowa) has disclosed that she was raped in college by someone she knew and that her ex-husband physically abused her. These revelations by the first-term senator make her the highest ranking woman in her party to allege sexual assault in the years since the #MeToo movement began.
Ernst publicly disclosed her college sexual assault during an interview with Bloomberg News. She said that she made the decision to do the difficult interview after many details of her divorce from husband Gail Ernst were recently made public.
In her interview, the senator said:
“I didn’t want to share it with anybody, and in the era of hashtag-MeToo survivors, I always believed that every person is different and they will confront their demons when they’re ready. And I was not ready.”
Ernst was recently elected to a GOP Senate leadership position and now is the fourth-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, making her one of the most powerful women in the country.
She has become an ally of serial sex abuser Donald Trump, but Ernst made a clear distinction between her personal experiences as a sexual assault victim and her political decisions to support Trump, saying:
“It’s outrageous to suggest that anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault should therefore be a Hillary Clinton supporter.”
Ernst has faced criticism for her vote to confirm another accused sex abuser, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. During his Senate confirmation hearings Christine Blasey Ford and others gave testimony alleging that the justice had sexually assaulted them.
Ernst publicly defended Kavanaugh after Ford’s testimony.
“I do believe she experienced trauma, but the evidence and witnesses presented by her contradicted her story,” Ernst told Bloomberg. “I don’t believe Justice Kavanaugh was the source of her trauma.”
The senator’s allegation that her husband abused her became public after details from affidavits filed in their divorce were published Monday. The affidavits were intended to be sealed but were accidentally made public in a court filing after the divorce was finalized earlier this month.
The senator publicly addressed her accusations against her husband at a town hall meeting in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Wednesday, saying:
“I am a survivor. What I want people to understand is that I am the same person as I was last week. You just know more about what’s inside of me now.”
Ernst is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican senators in 2020, since she represents a swing state where Trump’s popularity has sunk to record lows. Also, in last November’s midterms, two Democrats won Iowa congressional seats previously held by Republicans. Three out of four House seats in Iowa are now held by Democrats, which indicates that Ernst may face a difficult reelection next year.