“I think it was cathartic for me. This moment has been cathartic,” said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy and the Center for Popular Democracy Action and a sexual assault survivor, who this morning confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) about his vote to move forward with the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I decided to tell my story, a story that I hadn’t told to many people except a few friends. A story that I hadn’t even told my parents because I wanted to, in some ways, protect them from having to hold my pain,” she told Rewire.News in an interview after the incident. Video of Archila’s encounter with Flake in an elevator at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., was broadcast on CNN, and video of it went viral on social media early Friday morning. Flake’s office had released a statement minutes earlier announcing he would vote to recommend Kavanaugh’s confirmation proceed to a full Senate vote. Flake’s vote broke a tie between the ten other Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the ten Democrats, though he called for an FBI investigation into allegations of attempted sexual assault against Kavanaugh before he would cast his final vote.
“I found out right around 9:30 [this morning] that he put out a statement that he was supporting Brett Kavanaugh, and then I saw him coming out of his office,” Archila said. “Initially, my intention was to try to persuade him, instead I just released my whole set of anger and frustration and fear.”
The video shows Archila raising her voice as Flake and his staff stand in an elevator near his office. “On Monday I stood in front of your office … I told the story of my sexual assault,” Archila can be heard saying. “I told it because I recognized in Dr. Ford’s story that she’s telling the truth.” Another woman nearby also disclosed that she is a survivor of sexual assault, expressing her frustration with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s process. Flake declined to respond, murmuring “thank you” several times before a staffer tried to usher the women away.
It’s been an emotional week of protests on Capitol Hill for survivors of sexual assault after several women stepped forward to accuse Brett Kavanaugh of sexual violence and the Senate Judiciary Committee prepared to question Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday.
For Archila, the treatment of Ford at Kavanaugh’s hearing was beyond the pale. “I was enraged,” she said. “She was put on trial like Anita Hill was put on trial, like most women who dare to report their abuse are often put on trial, and I was furious. So I was carrying that anger today, but I was also hoping that Senator Flake had experienced a similar kind of rage and indignation at the spectacle of that hearing.”
“He wanted to close the elevator door, and he did not want to be there,” she said. “And I think he didn’t want to be there because what he’s doing is not explainable, it cannot be justified by someone who has that responsibility.”
Archila had hoped that Flake, who has tried to present himself as willing to defy Trump though he has voted in line with the president’s position 83.6 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s congressional tracker, would see the humanity of sexual assault survivors like herself. “I was hoping that because … he doesn’t have to face an election that he would behave in a different way,” she said before taking a long pause. “And he just … did … the same.”
After news broke of Flake’s call for a one week delay to allow for an FBI investigation, Archila released a statement suggesting that she had helped the senator decide to take action. “This is a demonstration that what thousands of people have been doing—telling our stories and standing up for ourselves—is working,” she said.
Flake’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether Archila’s confrontation influenced his decision.