Ana Maria Archila, one of two sexual assault survivors who confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on live television last week, has opened up about her assault ― and explained why she chose to share her story with the world.
In a poignant Op-Ed published Saturday in USA Today, Archila, who detailed the story of her assault in front of Flake’s office on Monday and then directly challenged the senator on Friday in the halls of Congress in a moment captured live on CNN, said her dealings with the lawmaker represented the first times she’d ever spoken publicly about the attack on her.
“I never thought that I would share my story,” wrote Archila, the executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “It happened when I was five years old, before I had the consciousness to know exactly what was taking place. Even still, I knew that it was wrong.”
“I told two adults at the time and they didn’t believe me,” Archila, 39, continued. “So I kept this as a secret, too afraid and ashamed to tell my parents. It has been a burden that has weighed on me greatly ever since.”
Archila said the courage of Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers, had inspired her to tell her own story.
“Ford told her story to protect our country and, in solidarity with her and as a way to thank her, I decided to tell mine too,” Archila wrote. “I, like thousands of women who have chosen to do the same, are doing this in the hopes that when the senators hear our stories, they will not only believe us, but most importantly, they will use their power to help heal our country, and not further reinforce the culture that condones sexual violence by ignoring survivors.”
On Friday, Archila and 23-year-old Maria Gallagher, also a survivor of sexual assault, challenged an ashen-faced Flake as he entered an elevator.
“What you are doing is allowing someone who actually violated a woman to sit on the Supreme Court,” Archila lambasted the senator. “This is not tolerable. You have children in your family. Think about them.”
Flake had earlier announced his intention as a Senate Judiciary Committee member to vote to confirm Kavanaugh, despite the allegations against him. Flake followed through with that vote, but he also made a surprise call ― approved by the White House ― for a one-week delay on the Senate floor vote to confirm the judge so an FBI investigation into the accusations could first take place.
In her opinion piece, Archila suggested her story, as well as that of other survivors of sexual violence, may have played a role in shifting Flake’s perspective.
“His reaction shows the power that we have, together, when we chose to tell our stories and stand up for our vision of an inclusive society,” she wrote. “When we take action, we breathe new life and possibility into our democracy.”
When asked by The Atlantic on Friday about the factors that prompted his call for the FBI probe, Flake ― who said he still intends to approve the judge’s nomination unless the investigation “turn[s] up something” ― said he was primarily motivated by a desire to preserve the credibility of the Supreme Court and the Senate.
“I don’t know if there was any one thing, but I was just unsettled,” he told the outlet. “You know, when I got back to the committee, I saw the food fight again between the parties — the Democrats saying they’re going to walk out, the Republicans blaming everything on the Democrats.”
“We can’t just have the committee acting like this,” he continued. “The majority and minority parties and their staffs just don’t work well together. There’s no trust ... It’s just falling apart.”
Quizzed specifically about his encounter with Archila and Gallagher, Flake said the two women may have been motivated by a political agenda when they approached him ― an “agenda ... different than mine.”
“I think some of their concern was how Kavanaugh would rule on the court. They may have been there prior to the allegations against him because of his position on some issues,” he said.
Flake added, however, that it had still been a “poignant” moment for him.
“It certainly struck a chord,” he said.