Emily Doe’s powerful survivor’s statement to her attacker, convicted Stanford University rapist Brock Turner, first prompted Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) to publicly disclose her multiple sexual assaults.
“I tell these stories tonight on the floor of the United States Congress not because they are remarkable or unique,” Kuster said in June, a week after she and a bipartisan group of colleagues read Doe’s statement in full. “Sadly, I tell these stories because they are all too common.”
Kuster is again sharing her experiences as women come forward with mounting allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and discrimination against GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Kuster once similarly found herself the target of another “star”—in her case, the world-renowned surgeon behind the first human heart transplant, she told her hometown newspaper, the New Hampshire Concord Monitor. That’s why leaked video of Trump crediting the assaults to his fame—“And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything”—represented “one of the truly chilling remarks for me,” Kuster said in an interview with Rewire.
“We have a unique opportunity to use this as a[n] educational, consciousness-raising moment for men and women of all ages,” Kuster said.
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When Kuster first spoke on the floor, she credited Republicans and Democrats, men and women, with supporting her. Though many congressional Republicans condemned Trump’s comments, only some denounced the nominee himself—and even fewer withdrew their support. A few Republican detractors, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), said characterizing Trump’s comments as sexual assault would be a “stretch.”
As the party grapples with the fallout, a new Morning Consult/Politico poll found that for 74 percent of the country’s Republicans, including 73 percent of GOP women, the party’s loyalty to Trump trumps his transgressions.
Democrats have capitalized on the intra-party strife ahead of Election Day.
The day after Kuster spoke with the Concord Monitor, First Lady Michelle Obama excoriated Trump for boasting about sexually assaulting women, without mentioning his name, in a Granite State campaign stop for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this,” Michelle Obama said in her widely praised speech. “It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.”
Kuster confirmed the power of Obama’s words from her vantage point in the audience.
“She was just saying what was on everybody’s mind,” Kuster said.
Kuster is also drawing inspiration from a younger generation of sexual assault survivors, including Chessy Prout, a former student at an elite New Hampshire prep school raped as part of a “senior salute” targeting first-year students.
Kuster wants to move past the “collective silence” that she said hamstrung women of her era, herself included, from successfully battling rape culture.
“I’m in a position now where I have an opportunity for advocacy on behalf of survivors of sexual assault,” she said. “The bottom line is, we need to change the culture. And it’s ironic, but I believe that Donald Trump has essentially started this national dialogue. He inadvertently defined ‘lack of consent.’”
Kuster’s efforts during the congressional recess have been focused on raising awareness and directing survivors toward resources. She name-checked several pending congressional proposals to combat sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, she co-sponsored legislation with Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski (IN) to provide travel benefits for service members seeking care.
Back in New Hampshire, Kuster said many constituents have approached her to share their sexual assault experiences.
“I was sitting in a booth with a group of women talking about this and every single one of them had a story of sexual assault,” she said. “The stories go on and on, and I just don’t think people generally understand how common this is and how enough is enough.”
“I just want people to know they’re not alone and that they have an advocate in Congress.”