Heidi Heitkamp Apologizes for Outing Survivors of Sexual Assault in a Campaign Ad

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North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s tough re-election campaign just got a little tougher: several women featured in a recent campaign ad against Republican challenger Kevin Cramer revealed their names had been used without permission.


The ad, which ran in several North Dakota newspapers, included the signatures of more than 125 people identified as survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence—a challenge to Cramer regarding his support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has been credibly accused by multiple women of sexual assault. Multiple women whose names were included, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday, claimed they had not given their permission for the Heitkamp campaign to use their experience in an ad.

“I have only shared my story with a couple of people in confidence,” Lexi Zhorela told the AP. “I didn’t want it blasted for the world to see”

“I know I’m not the only woman hurt by this,” she added.

In a post made in a closed Facebook group first reported on by the Grand Forks Herald, another woman included in the ad wrote that “a lot of these people listed, including me, did not give anyone permission for our names to be posted.”

Heitkamp apologized for outing the women in a statement posted to her campaign website, which claimed that her campaign had created the list by working with “victim advocates to identify women who would be willing to sign the letter or share their story”:

Sexual assault is a serious crime – and one that too many North Dakota women have experienced. In an attempt to bring awareness to this issue and push back against dismissive comments toward sexual assault survivors by Kevin Cramer, our campaign worked with victim advocates to identify women who would be willing to sign the letter or share their story. We recently discovered that several of the women’s names who were provided to us did not authorize their names to be shared or were not survivors of abuse. I deeply regret this mistake and we are in the process of issuing a retraction, personally apologizing to each of the people impacted by this and taking the necessary steps to ensure this never happens again.


Cramer was quick to leap on the Heitkamp’s error. “This is what happens when desperate people do things for their own personal political gain,” he told the AP.

Heitkamp had initially intended to vote in favor of Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court until Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s heart-wrenching testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in which she recounted her alleged sexual assault. That, combined with Kavanaugh’s unhinged testimony just hours later, persuaded Heitkamp—already down in the polls for her re-election campaign—to change her vote.


Since then, she has publicly made the issue of sexual assault a major component of her campaign, pushing back on Cramer’s assertion that the #MeToo movement was headed “toward victimization” by raising her own mother’s history with sexual assault.

Speaking with the AP, Zhorela claimed that she had initially planned to vote for Heitkamp in November, but following the unauthorized use of her name in the campaign ad, “definitely not now.”