Democratic congresswoman reveals past trauma during candid account of Capitol attack
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described how having survived sexual assault affected her experience during the Capitol attack. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Guardian staff and agencies
The Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday spoke in an emotional video about the insurrection at the US Capitol, and how what she went through was affected by her experience as a survivor of sexual assault.
In an account remarkably candid for an American lawmaker, Ocasio-Cortez recounted going into hiding as rioters scaled the Capitol on 6 January, hiding in a bathroom in her office while hearing banging on the walls and a man yelling: “Where is she? Where is she?” She had feared for her life, she told an Instagram Live audience of more than 150,000 people.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said. “And I had a lot of thoughts. I was thinking if this is the plan for me, people will be able to take it from here.”
In the video, Ocasio-Cortez expressed frustration at being asked to “move on” after the attack, likening it to the refrain heard by many survivors of sexual assault. “These folks to tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what happened, even telling us that we should apologize – these are the same tactics of abusers,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“I’m a survivor of sexual assault,” she added. “And I haven’t told many people that in my life. But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who won re-election in November in New York’s 14th congressional district, had said in a video last month that she feared for her life during the Capitol attack.
On Monday, she said she had been worried about the security situation for days, having been cautioned about possible violence by several people, including other lawmakers.
The incident at her office had occurred after she returned from receiving her Covid-19 vaccine, she said.
“I immediately realized I shouldn’t have gone into the bathroom. I should have gone in the closet,” she said. “Then I hear whoever was trying to get inside got into my office. I realize it’s too late.”
She said she had then heard yelling. “This was the moment I thought everything was over. I thought I was going to die.”
The congresswoman wiped away tears as she continued. “I start to look through the door hinge to see if I can see anything. I see this white man in a black beanie and yell again,” she said. “I have never been quieter in my entire life.”
AOC recounting her horrifying experience hiding in her office during the insurrection.
“I thought I was going to die…I have never been quieter in my entire life.” pic.twitter.com/t2P6FU3mFU
— Justice Democrats (@justicedems) February 2, 2021
A staffer had eventually told her it was safe to emerge from the bathroom where she was hiding, and a Capitol police officer had been present in her office. She and her team had left the office, she recalled, and had eventually found shelter in the offices of the California representative Katie Porter.
Ocasio-Cortez, who is Latina, had previously said that her fears were heightened because there were white supremacists and other extremists taking part in the mostly white mob.
The second-term representative, whose New York district covers part of Queens and the Bronx, is among the most high-profile elected officials on the political left and a lightning rod for the right and extreme right.
She has strongly condemned Donald Trump for inciting the riots, as well as members of his administration who did not invoke the 25th amendment to remove him from office, and lawmakers who voted to overturn the election results.