Heidi Heitkamp: Hey, sorry for releasing names of sexual assault survivors without their permission (Update: 'I'm furious', Heitkamp: 'huge mistake')

Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota is trailing her challenger, Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, in several recent polls. Last week, Cramer made news when he said of the #MeToo movement that the women in his family couldn’t understand the, “movement toward victimization.” He added, “They are pioneers of the prairie. These are tough people whose grandparents were tough and great-grandparents were tough.”

Sen Heitkamp was upset by this and apparently decided to capitalize on it by running a full-page ad in the Bismarck Times and several other papers on Sunday. The ad contains a statement about survivors of sexual abuse and is signed by 127 women who, in the context of the ad, are identifying themselves as survivors. But some of the women named in the ad came forward to say they never consented to have their names appear in it. From the SayAnything blog:

Kady Miller of Bismarck is one of the women named in the ad, but says in a Facebook post that “A lot of these people listed, including me, did not give anyone permission for our names to be posted.”

“I don’t even support Heidi Heitkamp and I am not a domestic abuse survivor,” she continues.

Miller didn’t name any of the other women allegedly included in the ad without permission, but in the comments to her post Keeley Beck of Mandan says her name was included without her permission as well.

Today, the Heitkamp campaign released a statement apologizing for the error. From the Grand Forks Herald:

In a statement, Heitkamp said her campaign recently discovered “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.” She said her campaign worked with victim advocates to identify women who would be willing to sign the letter.

“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…

A Cramer campaign spokesman called the incident an “egregious act” and “inexcusable.”

What’s still not clear is how this happened. How do you accidentally include someone’s name on a list of abuse survivors without their permission? Even more fundamentally, how do you include people on the list who weren’t even victims of abuse? It just doesn’t make any sense, even a junior campaign intern should have known this was too explosive an issue to handle carelessly.

Heitkamp obviously thought pressing this hot-button issue would help her gain some ground on Cramer, but it’s definitely not working out that way. Using someone’s name in an ad like this without their permission is exactly the kind of re-victimization the left is constantly worried about in these situations. I guess we’ll see if any left-wing groups come down hard on Heitkamp for this violation of privacy or if they simply decide to keep mum given the close proximity to the election.

Update: The Associated Press has spoken to one of the women who came forward on Facebook. Not only did she not agree to be part of Heitkamp’s stunt, she says she had only revealed her assault to a few people prior to her name appearing in the ad:

Lexi Zhorela told The Associated Press that she learned of the ad Monday night

“I’m furious,” the 24-year-old hairdresser and single mother from Bismarck said. “I know I’m not the only woman hurt by this.”

Zhorela said she was listed in the ad because she had been tagged by a friend in a Facebook post who knew she had been the victim of sexual assault.

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

Zhorela said she had intended to vote for Heitkamp in November but will “definitely not now.”

Again, the question I’m asking is how this could even happen? Did someone just collect names off Facebook and add them as signatories? That’s what it sounds like.

Update: A woman whose name appeared in the ad told CNN she is not a sexual abuse survivor and that being falsely identified as one has been humiliating:

Another woman whose name incorrectly appeared on the letter but asked to remain anonymous called the ordeal “humiliating.”

“I’m not even a survivor and my name was included in the ad,” she said. “I had family and friends calling me all concerned. It was humiliating.”

Update: Heitkamp appeared on a radio show today in which she apologized for her “colossal” mistake. From CBS News:

In a radio interview with AM1100 WZFG on Tuesday, Heitkamp said she was “furious” that women had been misidentified in the ad.

“I think that this is horrible, and I look at this the way I would if I were someone whose name were in the paper who didn’t authorize it. And I think that that is a colossal and huge mistake for which I will undoubtedly have reputational injury as a result of it,” she said in the interview. “But I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about fixing what we’ve done and the mistake that’s been made.”

This is a genuine PR disaster. Heitkamp was already in trouble according to recent polls. We’ll have to wait and see but I expect her remaining support could collapse after this fiasco.