Democratic candidate for U.S. House Rep. Paula Hawks led off last night’s televised debate by revealing that she was a victim of sexual assault by a man in a position of power over her during college. This revelation had no impact on Republican Rep. Kristi Noem’s support for her party’s nominee, sexual predator Donald Trump. Rep. Noem perpetuates the false equivalency between perceptions of Hillary Clinton’s political agenda and Donald Trump’s own admitted abuse of women:
“That speaks to the character of the individual. And what we’ve seen from Donald Trump even in the past two weeks, his behavior and his language and his words have conveyed to me, that he has no respect for women,” Hawks said.
“I’ve seen for years her put herself before her country over and over again, and that’s not acceptable to me. So I’ll vote for Donald Trump. I don’t defend him or what he’s said, but the 30 years of actions by Hillary Clinton are simply unacceptable,” Noem said [Sammi Bjelland, “Hawks Leads off KELOLAND Debate with Revelation of Her Past Sexual Assault,” KELO-TV, 2016.10.17].
Undeterred by Rep. Noem’s willful blindness to the danger of handing a sexual predator the power of the Presidency, Rep. Hawks elaborates on her story in an op-ed posted by KELO Radio and explains why the absurd horror of the Trump candidacy prompted her to share this story:
Whatever your politics, I think we can agree, this election has been difficult to stomach. In a bizarre sort of way, running for Congress has given me a welcome reprieve from the ugly nature of the Presidential campaigns. Frankly, I’ve been more consumed with trying to run my own race than read every mean tweet by Trump. That all changed last week.
I was raped in college. Sexually assaulted by a person in a position of authority, when I listened to the audio from Trump bragging about what he could do to women because of wealth and fame, it hit me extremely hard.
For a moment — I was brought back to that place 20 years ago — alone, afraid, violated, embarrassed. Then, I became extremely pissed off. With years of therapy and an incredibly loving family that provided me a support system, I moved on. As much as you can.
This event totally changed the trajectory of my life. From the degree I completed in college to the type of personal relationships I was able to form afterwards, it’s been a dominant feature of who I am and the type of person I’ve become.
Never in a million years did I think I would feel comfortable talking about this publicly. But then, I didn’t think we’d ever have a presidential candidate bragging about sexual assault. Nor did I expect to witness the number of people ready and willing to excuse his behavior.
There are some lines I just don’t believe we, as a society, should cross. Supporting a sexual predator just because he might sign your bill into law is one of them. A man who brags about sexual assault is a man incapable of leadership. Those enabling him have already proven they cannot hold him responsible for the most reprehensible of acts. If we condone this behavior in our most important elected office, we enable it in our workplaces and at our colleges.
In the last week, I’ve read stories about a disgusting, heinous assault against a pregnant woman, a young girl being raped on the way home from school and a group of teenage girls being followed in Garretson. All right here in South Dakota. Ask your sister or mom or daughter. Most will have a story about someone being too close or being followed in a mall or on a walk in a park.
Sexual assault is real. Rape is real. We need to pay attention to these stories.
When we talk about the dysfunction in our country, I think we need to start by setting some basic standards for ourselves, for our political parties, for the people we support. We are role models and we should strive to be good ones. The example we set does matter. It should matter [Rep. Paula Hawks, op-ed, KELO Radio, 2016.10.18].