Republican Senator Joni Ernst (IA) revealed that she was raped in college by a former boyfriend. Ernst shared the traumatic story in an interview published Wednesday in which she discussed her bitter divorce with ex-husband Gail, with whom she officially split this month. Ernst also denied reports that she cheated on her husband with a soldier.
The two have traded accusations of infidelity in their dramatic separation, which was publicized from affidavits earlier this week. Ernst said in those papers that marital troubles led her to turn down an offer from President Trump to be his running mate.
Sen. Ernst reveals rape by former boyfriend
Ernst told Bloomberg in an emotional interview Wednesday that she was raped by a former boyfriend, whom she did not name, while she was a student at Iowa State University. Bloomberg wrote that Ernst was in tears as she described the event in a phone call and at times “cried so hard that she was barely intelligible.”
Ernst said that the man was “physically and sexually abusive,” and that he threatened to kill himself if she broke up with him. She ended the relationship and called counseling for sexual assault victims on campus, but never reported the rape to the police. Ernst later volunteered at the counseling center but never publicly identified as a client there, including when she mentioned her volunteer work in her Senate campaign in 2014. “I was embarrassed. I didn’t know how to explain it. I was so humiliated. And I’m a private person, when it comes to those things,” she said.
Ernst said she told her husband privately about the rape, but did not tell him the attacker’s name. She decided to come forward with her story after the public began reporting the details of her unsealed divorce papers this week, she 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.”
Alleged abuse by ex-husband
Ernst and her husband finally separated this month after filing for divorce in August, and the unsealed affidavits in their divorce proceedings painted a picture of marital discord in media reports this week. In affidavits, Ernst accused her husband of assaulting her when she confronted him about the time he was spending with their daughter’s babysitter early in their marriage.
“He turned around at the landing, and he grabbed me by the throat with his hands and threw me on the landing floor,” she explained to Bloomberg. “And then he pounded my head … on the landing. It was very sudden and very violent. It scared me.”
Ernst said that she never went to the hospital or reported the attack to the police because she didn’t want to embarrass her husband, who agreed to marriage counseling but told her to never mention it.
Ernst also revealed in affidavits that she turned down an offer to be Donald Trump’s running mate because of family concerns and a desire to avoid angering her husband, who she said was jealous of her success. “I continued to make sacrifices and not soar higher out of concern for Gail and our family,” she says. “Meanwhile, he hated any success I had, and would belittle me and get angry any time I achieved a goal.”
Denies cheating accusation
Ernst addressed her divorce to reporters after the affidavits, now mostly sealed at the separated couple’s request, were publicized. The senator denied her ex-husband’s accusations that she cheated on him with a soldier under her command when she was deployed in Kuwait and Iraq in 2003 to 2004. “That is not accurate, and I was a company commander overseas and took that job very, very seriously,” she told reporters after a town hall meeting in Cedar Springs on Wednesday.
Ernst defended her decision to vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh and her support of Trump, saying that her political and personal lives are separate and that she does not believe Christine Blasey Ford was assaulted by Kavanaugh, although she does think Ford experienced trauma from an encounter with somebody else.
“It’s outrageous to suggest that anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault should therefore be a Hillary Clinton supporter,” Ernst said.
She said that she is determined to hold on to her Senate seat in 2020. “I’m seeking re-election. I’m going to do it as a single woman,” she said. “People know my situation now. What I can do is be honest about what happened. And I can move forward. The problem is now I’ve been outed when I was not ready to talk about it. But now maybe it forces me to talk about it.”