Sen. Joni Ernst revealed she was raped in college by an acquaintance, becoming one of the few high-profile women in the Republican party to come forward as survivors of gender violence. The Iowa junior senator made the revelation in an interview with Bloomberg, where she also addressed allegations disclosed in her divorce proceedings that her ex-husband physically and emotionally abused her.
“I didn’t want to share it with anybody, and in the era of hashtag-Me Too survivors, I always believed that every person is different and they will confront their demons when they’re ready,” Ernst told Bloomberg. “And I was not ready.”
Ernst, 48, told Bloomberg that during her time at Iowa State University she became romantically involved with a man who was “very abusive. He was physically and sexually abusive." She said the man, which she declined to identify, raped her at his home and then threatened to kill himself if she broke up with him. Ernst ended the relationship anyway and while she sought counseling from the school's sexual assault counseling center’s hotline, she chose not to report her rapist to the authorities.
Years later, her ex-husband Gail Ernst allegedly abused her physically and emotionally, according to an affidavits she filed during her divorce proceedings. (He hasn't commented on the allegations.) Reports of the alleged abuse surfaced after the documents, which were supposed to be sealed, were made public by accident in a court filing after the divorce was finalized. According to the affidavit, Ernst's ex-husband used to be emotionally abusive whenever she achieved her goals. In her interview with Bloomberg, Ernst said that about a decade ago the couple had an argument over his refusal to end an extramarital affair. After she followed him down the stairs, berating him, she said he attacked her.
“He turned around at the landing, and he grabbed me by the throat with his hands and threw me on the landing floor,” she told the outlet. “And then he pounded my head … on the landing. It was very sudden and very violent. It scared me.”
Ernst left the house with her daughter, but after her ex asked for forgiveness, she returned to him and hoped to make the marriage work. She didn't report the abuse to the police.
At a town hall event at the University of Northern Iowa, Ernst also addressed the allegations and why she had not come forward as a survivor before. "I fully believe that survivors have the right to keep their stories to themselves if they don't want to share those stories, or are not ready to share those stories," she said. "Unfortunately I have been forced to share my story."
She added: "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."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).