Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) apologized Tuesday for naming victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse without their permission in a campaign ad.
The ad, published Sunday in several North Dakota newspapers, was written in the form of an open letter to her GOP challenger in next month’s Senate election, Kevin Cramer, and was purportedly authored by victims of abuse. But several women among the dozens whose names appear at the bottom of the letter say they either never authorized their identities to be shared or aren’t victims of abuse.
Heitkamp said in a statement Tuesday that she deeply regretted “this mistake” and planned to personally apologize to each person affected:
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.
It’s unclear how the women’s names ended up on the ad. A representative for Heitkamp’s campaign did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Eve Lancaster identified herself Monday on Facebook as one of the women named in the newspaper ad.
“To whom ever decided it was ok to put my name in this ‘open letter’ for the Bismarck Tribune and possibly other newspapers for this Heitkamp campaign for sexual harrassment [sic], I am DISGUSTED,” Lancaster wrote. “I did not give any sort of permission for you to put my name in this. I’m FURIOUS.”
Lexi Zhorela told The Associated Press that she only learned of the ad Monday night and believed she had been included because a friend who knew she was a victim of sexual assault had tagged her in a Facebook post.
“I’m furious,” Zhorela told AP. “I have only shared my story with a couple of people in confidence. I didn’t want it blasted for the world to see.”
Zhorela had planned to vote for Heitkamp in November, but told AP that she will “definitely not now.”
The Heitkamp-Cramer race is seen as a key to Democrats’ efforts to regain control of the Senate.
Heitkamp, a red-state Democrat, faced an uphill battle even before the self-inflicted controversy. She voted against confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh earlier this month, prompting backlash from her largely conservative constituents.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.