Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) revealed in a recent interview about her divorce that she was raped in college by someone with whom she was acquainted.
“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 told Bloomberg. “And I was not ready.”
The explosive admission came as the Iowa Republican and her now ex-husband, Gail, are lobbing serious accusations at each other in recently released court filings. The divorce documents detail what was an increasingly dysfunctional marriage, which included allegations of extramarital affairs and physical abuse.
While serving as the Montgomery County auditor between 2005 and 2011, Ernst said Gail had physically abused her after she confronted him about spending time at the babysitter’s home when their daughter was not present. “I confronted him about the situation and we went through a very dark and troubling time in our marriage. I very nearly filed for divorce after a night that we argued and it became physical,” Ernst wrote in the affidavit. “It was very sudden and very violent. It scared me.”
Ernst said she began a “downward spiral” of sleep and weight loss after discovering email exchanges between her husband and another woman last summer. “I rapidly lost 17 pounds about 13 percent of my body weight. My staff had to cancel two days of my appointments because I couldn’t function,” the lawmaker wrote.
Ernst also said she turned down President Donald Trump after interviewing to be his running mate.
Then-President-elect Trump interviewed Ernst at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in July 2016, as he was considering potential running mates. Ernst told reporters later that she made clear she was interested in continuing to serve Iowa in the Senate, to which she was elected in 2014 after serving as a state senator and county official. The president eventually chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) as his running mate.
Ernst called her withdrawal from consideration a sacrifice for the good of the relationship with her husband, a retired Army Airborne Ranger whom she said was not supportive of her fast-rising political career.
“I continued to make sacrifices and not soar higher out of concern for Gail and our family,” Ernst said. “Meanwhile, he hated any successes I had, and would belittle me and get angary [sic] any time I achieved a goal.”
Gail not only denied the allegations, but shot back one of his own. “Joni had a sexual affair with one of her own soldiers while deployed from ‘03-‘04. I caught her secretly emailing him from our home after the deployment,” he said. Further, Gail accused the senator of “very bizarre behavior” after he asked for a divorce, which included sending emails from his account under his name.
The senator publicly addressed the allegations while speaking at a town hall in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Wednesday,
“I am a survivor,” she told attendees. “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.”
In recent days, the 48-year-old said she will seek re-election for her seat in 2020.
“I’m seeking re-election. I’m going to do it as a single woman,” Ernst 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.