Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, has issued a public apology after an “open letter” political ad that her campaign claimed was signed by victims of sexual assault included the names of women who said their stories and identities were shared publicly without their consent.
“I have only shared my story with a couple of people in confidence,” said Lexi Zhorela, one of the women named by the ad as a survivor of assault. “I didn’t want it blasted for the world to see.”
The ad had been meant to criticize her challenger Republican Representative Kevin Kramer’s contemptuous characterization of the #MeToo phenomenon as a movement toward “victimization” that would never be supported by truly “tough” women such as his wife, daughters, and mother. Heitkamp had been vocal in her condemnation of Kramer’s words, noting that her own mother was a victim of sexual assault and that “it didn’t make her less strong.” The “open letter” published in a North Dakota paper was meant as a continuation of that line of attack, but has since become a distraction during her re-election campaign in a state that voted for Donald Trump by 30 points in the 2016 presidential election.
“We recently discovered that several of the women’s names who were provided to us did not authorize their names to be shared or were not survivors of abuse. I deeply regret this mistake and we are in the process of issuing a retraction, personally apologizing to each of the people impacted by this and taking the necessary steps to ensure this never happens again,” Heitkamp said in a statement.
“At the end of the day … this is on me,” Heitkamp added in comments made to North Dakota radio host Rob Port on Tuesday. “This has got my name on it … I’ve spent a great deal of my professional time working with victims, and the worst thing you could do is take away their privacy, and I feel like if in fact these women were listed who are victims, I did exactly that, and I need to personally apologize and say it was wrong.”
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