Republican Sen. Joni Ernst says her husband abused her and she was raped in college

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa

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Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa
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Screenshot via CBS

  • Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said she was raped in college and physically abused by her ex-husband of 26 years.
  • The spousal abuse allegations were reported this week after documents in her divorce proceedings were made public.
  • Ernst told Bloomberg News that her ex-husband, Gail Ernst, grabbed her by the throat and pounded her head on the floor of their home in 2007 or 2008.

Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican and Army combat veteran, said this week that she was raped in college by an acquaintance and that her ex-husband of 26 years physically abused her.

The allegations of spousal abuse were reported this week after documents in her divorce proceedings were made public. Ernst separately said that she took herself out of the running to become President Donald Trump’s vice-presidential running mate in part because her former husband “hated any successes I had.”

The senator said her ex-husband, Gail Ernst, attacked her in 2007 or 2008 after she accused him of having an affair with their young daughter’s babysitter.

“He grabbed me by the throat with his hands and threw me on the landing floor,” she told Bloomberg News in an interview this week. “And then he pounded my head … on the landing. It was very sudden and very violent. It scared me.”

Ernst said Gail didn’t physically abuse her again after that, but there was “always that underlying threat.”

“Gail has been very cruel,” she wrote of her ex-husband Gail Ernst in the affidavit. “This has been an extremely painful journey.”

Gail Ernst wrote in his filing that he sacrificed his own career in service of his wife’s. He also denied her charges that he had had extramarital affairs.

Ernst told Bloomberg that her husband’s affidavit was “just one lie after another.” The couple publicly announced their divorce last August and it was finalized this month.

The senator also told Bloomberg that she was in a “physically and sexually abusive” relationship while in college at Iowa State University and was raped by the man, who threatened to kill himself if she broke up with him.

The 48-year-old lawmaker said she was “not ready” to talk publicly about the details of her abuse when they were reported this week, but added that she wants to be honest about what happened to her.

“I was embarrassed,” Ernst told Bloomberg of the abuse. “I didn’t know how to explain it. I was so humiliated. And I’m a private person, when it comes to those things.”

Ernst is the fourth highest-ranking Republican in the Senate and the most high profile GOP woman to speak publicly about her experience with sexual assault in the #MeToo era.

“I am a survivor,” she said during a press conference this week in which she broke down in tears, according to the Muscatine Journal. “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.”

The senator could face criticism for voting for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, including assault. During the Justice’s confirmation hearings, Ernst said she believed one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, had experienced trauma, but didn’t believe it was perpetrated by Kavanaugh.