The lawmaker, one of the highest-ranking women in Congress, told Bloomberg News that she was sexually assaulted by someone she was dating while studying at Iowa State University. She said that the man was physically and verbally abusive during their relationship and that she broke up with him after speaking to someone at a campus counseling center. She said she didn’t report the rape to police.
“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,” the senator told Bloomberg News on Wednesday, before adding, “And I was not ready.”
Ernst has been subject to heavy media scrutiny this week over her divorce from her husband, Gail Ernst. In documents made public due to state law, the senator said she was subjected to emotional and physical abuse during her 25-year marriage.
“Gail has been very cruel. This has been an extremely painful journey,” Ernst wrote in an affidavit first reported by the Iowa newspaper Cityview and the Des Moines Register on Tuesday. The documents have since been sealed at the request of the Ernsts.
Their divorce was first announced in August and became finalized on Jan. 3.
Ernst has been a high-profile supporter of President Donald Trump throughout his first term. She also voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year amid outrage over allegations that he had sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers.
The lawmaker moved to distance her personal trauma from her politics in the Bloomberg interview, however, saying it was “outrageous to suggest that anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault should therefore be a Hillary Clinton supporter.”
“I was embarrassed,” Ernst said of her response at the time of the assault. “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 she planned to seek re-election in 2020 in what’s expected to be a difficult fight to retain her seat. But Ernst noted she was prepared to campaign as “a single woman” who can now move forward.
“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.”