North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who is in a close re-election fight with Rep. Kevin Cramer, was put on the defensive today while trying to go on the offensive over the sexual assaults of women.
A week ago, the New York Times reported that Cramer dismissed the #MeToo movement, saying his family “cannot understand this movement toward victimization.”
“They are pioneers of the prairie,” Cramer said, according to the Times. “These are tough people whose grandparents were tough and great-grandparents were tough.”
So Heitkamp released an open letter, signed by dozens of women:
We are here to let you know what prairie tough looks like. We are here to let you know that you are wrong – this is not “a movement toward victimization” it’s about being a survivor. We are here to let you know that we have all suﬀered from domes-tic violence, sexual assault, or rape – and that yes, we expect somebody to believe us when we say it. Because it happened.
As North Dakotans who have experienced this absolute terror ﬁrsthand and survived these crimes – we are all prairie tough. We have been told no one will listen, that there is nothing we can do, or that it was our fault that something happened – we will no lon-ger allow women and girls in North Dakota to grow up believing that is the case. You will never know what it feels like to be so personally violated, to have someone take what seems like everything from you – and to never have justice or peace of mind. You will never know what it’s like to relive the experience every day, suﬀering in silence, and dealing with a lifetime of trauma. That is prairie tough.
Native women and girls in Indian Country and elsewhere in North Dakota – are prai-rie tough. They experience these crimes at appallingly high rates – and in Indian Coun-try non-Native perpetrators rarely suﬀer the consequences for their actions. You once had a chance to stand up for women and girls in Indian Country – and you said that allowing their tribes to protect them was “unconstitutional” and that a non-native could not get a fair trial. How is it “unconsti-tutional” to stand up for the rights of Native women and girls – what is fair about their being beaten, sexually assaulted, or raped with impunity. North Dakota’s Native wom-en and girls have frequently felt like they’ve had no voice while they’ve screamed in the dark – yet they continue to ﬁght, seek jus-tice, and come forward with their stories. That is prairie tough.
None of us want another woman or girl in North Dakota to experience what we have. We have been encouraged by the outpour-ing of support and strength that we have received over the years from our families, friends, and communities. We know that is the best of North Dakota. We know that there is strength in numbers – and that we can change outcomes for future genera-tions of women and girls in North Dakota. Not through silence or being told when we are allowed to talk – but by raising our voic-es whenever and wherever we can, even if it takes years to ﬁnd our voice. That is prairie tough.
We are all survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or rape.
We are all North Dakotans.
We are all prairie tough.
Not all at survivors, according to the Fargo Forum. Some of the 127 women whose names were used said they didn’t give permission for their names to be made public.
One of the signatories said “a lot of these people listed, including me, did not give anyone permission for our names to be posted,” the Forum said. The woman said she’s not an abuse or assault survivor.
This morning, Heitkamp apologized.
“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,” Heitkamp said in her statement.
The open letter was published in full-page ads in several Forum newspapers.