Like most Montanans, we were horrified as we watched footage of Donald Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women while Access Hollywood reporter, Billy Bush, laughed and egged him on.
We were horrified because we are women and mothers, sisters and daughters. The men and boys in our lives were also horrified. All decent people should be horrified when they hear a man bragging about violently forcing himself on women.
Over the last two weeks, many high ranking Republicans, well-known religious leaders, and other public figures have rescinded their support for Trump. But Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke is not one of these leaders. In fact, Ryan and Lola Zinke quickly reaffirmed their support for Trump and dismissed his confession of sexual assault as locker room talk.
But that’s not the worst of it. A few days before the Trump video was released, the Billings Gazette recorded a video interview with Congressman Zinke. In this interview, Montana’s Congressman can be seen and heard cracking an ugly joke. He says, “I think Mr. Trump has been an equal opportunity offender . . . I don’t think he offends women any more than he offends anyone else.”
At the end of the joke, Zinke smiles, hoping for a laugh. But no one else in the room laughs, and that’s the point: sexism and sexual assault aren’t funny.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 150,000 Montanans have been victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes. With these lives in mind, is it any wonder why we think sexual assault is a big issue that merits statewide attention?
When we consider the pervasiveness of sexual assault, we’re not just disappointed or upset that Congressman Zinke is ignoring this problem. We’re angry.
Here’s why: Congressman Zinke isn’t merely silent on the issue of sexual assault; he’s actively trying to protect a man who has bragged about committing sexual assault. He’s protecting Trump by pretending that his actions are mostly harmless and not worthy of conversation. He’s protecting a sexual predator by helping him become President of the United States.
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For these reasons, we recently organized the “Montanans Rally for Women” group, and we held protests outside the Congressman’s four state offices in Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, and Helena. Women and men joined us from all corners of our communities to tell their stories of sexual assault and to demand that Congressman Zinke withdraw his support for Trump. He has not yet responded to us.
Congressman Zinke is choosing Donald Trump over Montana. He is minimizing Trump’s words and his actions, and we find this behavior both disturbing and dangerous.
We would not stand by if our religious leaders or teachers ignored sexual assault. We would not allow any respected or trusted adult in our community defend someone who bragged about forcing himself on women. We must hold our elected officials to the same standard.
As Montanans, our voices may be minor influences in the Presidential election, but we do have influence over who represents Montana families and Montana family values in the U.S. House. We believe that all Montanans deserve to be represented by someone who has the courage to stand up against sexual assault and those who make light of it.
We believe Montanans deserve better than Congressman Ryan Zinke.
– Nancy A. Neal, Candidate for HD 86
Hamilton, MT; Juniper Davis, of Missoula; Kate Olp-Restad, of Billings; Jules Shindel, of Great Falls; and Holly Kaleczyc, of Helena, are all part of Montanans Rally for Women.