When the story broke of Sen. Joni Ernst’s experience with sexual violence and domestic abuse last year, I felt her pain like I had felt my own.
Sharing personal details of your life is hard. But I believed that she — as my senator — would use her platform for survivors now that the world knew she, like myself, was a survivor of domestic violence.
Yet, when put to the test on delivering legislation that protects women like us, Ernst chose to shamefully bury and abandon a bill that would do just that. Instead, she chose to side with the NRA who contributed millions to her campaign.
Ernst and I beat the odds: statistics show that on average three women are murdered each day from gun violence by a current or former intimate partner.
I had been with my abusive partner for six years when he called me while I was at a counseling session. My therapist witnessed his angry demands and threats. After I hung up, my therapist asked me if he owned guns. I told her he did. She then handed me a pamphlet to the domestic violence shelter urging me to go there for help. Instead, I planned my escape from our home, still naive and unaware that most abusers murder their intimate partners when they try to leave.
I recently moved back to Des Moines to be close to my family, but the city also happened to be where my abuser lived. Since I had left him, he had been convicted of domestic abuse against a dating partner, and within weeks of my return to my hometown, he began harassing and stalking me.
I got a civil no contact order, but I found out that he had still managed to keep his guns, despite his earlier dating violence conviction. My life was in danger, yet there was no law to help me.
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Then I learned that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill renewing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) last spring. Included in the bill were anti-gun-violence provisions that would help me and could save the lives of thousands of other women like me.
Under current law, the only domestic violence misdemeanants who are prohibited from having guns are those who are married or formerly married to their intimate partners. That’s the “boyfriend loophole,” which leaves the nearly half of all victims of domestic violence who were never married to their abusers unprotected from gun violence under federal law. The new VAWA passed by the House closed that loophole. If the Senate took up the House bill and passed it, thousands of women could breathe easier, knowing that their abusive boyfriends could no longer possess guns.
To my shock, when the House bill came to the Senate floor for a vote, Ernst blocked the vote on that bill. Then she introduced a similar version of the new VAWA, but without the part that would have closed the boyfriend loophole. That’s when I found out Ernst has taken $3.1 million in contributions from the NRA. Because the NRA came out against the bill, Ernst chose to protect abusers, not victims, as the House bill did.
Why, Joni? How could a survivor of domestic violence like yourself side with the NRA over victims of the same crime?
Ernst blocked a vote on the version of VAWA that would save women’s lives and threw away an opportunity to close a dangerous loophole in federal law. Now that we know whose side she is on, we have to hold her accountable in this upcoming election.
Let’s tell her it’s wrong and dangerous to arm abusers. Let’s tell her lives are on the line. And if she won’t listen to survivors of domestic and dating violence over the NRA, then it’s time to vote for a senator who will.
Amanda Johnson lives in Iowa.