Sen. Joni Ernst said Wednesday that she was sexually assaulted by someone close to her in college, a revelation she was not prepared to disclose but felt she needed to address after details of her divorce became public.
“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,” Ernst said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg News.
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Details of Ernst’s divorce from her husband Gail were widely reported earlier this week. In those documents, most of them now sealed by joint request, Ernst reportedly accused her husband of 26 years of assaulting her early in their marriage, after she confronted him about a possible affair.
Ernst said she is a “survivor” and that her message to fellow survivors of abuse is that things will get better with time.
“Eventually, things can be OK, and you can move beyond that and you don’t have to be defined in one bucket or another as being ‘a survivor,’” she told reporters after an event in Cedar Falls. “You can just be Joni or John or Carrie. It doesn’t matter. You can move beyond that.”
According to a Des Moines Register report, Iowa law makes affidavits like the ones that Ernst and her now former husband filed, each of which contains allegations of affairs the other might have had, public when a divorce is finalized. The divorce was finalized this month.
Ernst, according to reports, spoke at length with reporters after the allegations in the divorce filings. She denied Gail Ernst’s claim that she had an affair with a soldier under her command. Ernst, who commanded units in Kuwait and Iraq in 2003-04, retired after 23 years in the Army Reserve and National Guard with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 2015.
“That is not accurate, and I was a company commander overseas and took that job very, very seriously,” said Ernst, the first female combat veteran to be elected to the Senate and the first woman from Iowa ever elected to Congress.
Addressing the allegation that she no longer lives in Iowa, Ernst said she is buying a new place in her hometown of Red Oak, a town of just under 5,500 in Western Iowa. After a surprising and convincing win in the 2014 midterms, Ernst is viewed as one of the top Republicans Democrats will need to knock off if they hope to retake the chamber. She also recently became the first woman to serve in Senate GOP leadership in nearly a decade.
“I’m seeking reelection. I’m going to do it as a single woman,” Ernst told Bloomberg. “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.”