Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota ran a campaign ad in several newspapers that identified some women as victims of sexual assault and domestic violence who had never endured either.
The ad — structured as an open letter criticizing Heitkamp's opponent, Congressman Kevin Cramer — reads, "We are all survivors of domestic violence,
sexual assault, or rape. We are all North Dakotans. We are all prairie tough."
Below the declaration are more than a hundred names that appear to be signatories on the letter.
Several women said they had not consented to their names appearing in the ad and some were not victims at all.
Kady Miller, a resident of Bismarck, North Dakota, found her name in the ad in the Saturday edition of the Bismarck Tribune. She posted about it in a local group, Bismarck's People Reporting News, saying that she found the inclusion of her name offensive not only because she hasn't experienced domestic violence but because she had never supported Heitkamp.
"I’ve never been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault and I made this public because I don’t appreciate my name being slandered for someone’s campaign that I do not even support," Miller told BuzzFeed News.
Eve Lancaster posted a picture of the ad in the Tribune and wrote, "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 harassment, I am DISGUSTED. I did not give any sort of permission for you to put my name in this. I'm FURIOUS." She did not immediately respond to request for further comment.
Lexi Zhorela, a 24-year-old from Bismarck, told the Associated Press, "I have only shared my story with a couple of people in confidence. I didn't want it blasted for the world to see." She said a friend who knew she was a victim had tagged her in a Facebook post about sexual assault.
Zhorela told AP that she had been planning to vote for Heitkamp but changed her mind because of the ad.
Heitkamp issued a statement admitting the error.
"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," she said in a statement.
She apologized and said her campaign was working on retracting the ad.
"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's opponent called the ad "revictimization of victims" when speaking to AP. He previously spoke to the New York Times about the #MeToo movement and said that women in his family "cannot understand this movement toward victimization."
The Bismarck Tribune and Heitkamp's office and campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.