New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recalled her harrowing experience during the Capitol insurrection on January 6, and also shared for the first time that she is a survivor of sexual assault.
“I’m a survivor of sexual assault. And I haven’t told many people that in my life,” she said during an Instagram Live appearance, which has now reached more than two million views. “But when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other.”
Ocasio-Cortez explained how surviving sexual trauma has affected the psychological aftermath of the Capitol attack, in which a mob of Trump supporters, abetted by the former president, broke into and stormed the building.
“Whether you experience any sort of trauma in your life, small to large, these episodes can compound on one another. There’s no something really big happening to you and then you deal with it and then you move on,” she said. “All of our experiences make us who we are.”
On the day of the insurrection, Ocasio-Cortez recalled running into the bathroom after hearing violent, incessant bangs on the doors of her congressional office. “And then I realized that the bathroom was the wrong choice. I should’ve jumped into the closet,” she said, adding that whoever was banging on her doors had successfully broken into her office and that she could see him from behind the bathroom door’s hinge. The person, who she described as “a white man in a black beanie,” started shouting, “Where is she? Where is she?”
“This was the moment where I thought everything was over,” Ocasio-Cortez recounted. “I thought I was going to die.”
Thoughts raced through her mind as she attempted to hide from the intruder, the representative recalled. “I felt that if this was the journey that my life was taking, I felt that things were going to be okay and that I had fulfilled my purpose,” she said shakily, wiping away tears.
One of the congresswoman’s staffers then yelled out for Ocasio-Cortez to come out of hiding; she saw then that the intruder was a Capitol Police officer. “But then it didn’t feel right,” she said. “Because he was looking at me with a tremendous amount of anger and hostility. Things weren’t adding up.”
The officer shouted at her to go to a different building. After fleeing her own office, Ocasio-Cortez said she took shelter in the office of California representative Katie Porter, where they and some staffers barricaded the door with furniture. “I’m fully just bracing for impact for these people to breach the perimeter of our building,” she continued. “What also felt crazy traumatizing is just feeling like there were people that were willing to do what they needed to do. You know, the incredibly brave staffers that were with us … and that they were making decisions to put themselves between us and any potential danger that would break into that room. And you really struggle with that, because those aren’t your decisions and you don’t want anyone to do that. … You really sit with the weight of that.”
Ocasio-Cortez pushed back against the GOP narrative, which claims that the insurrection was of little consequence, relating it to “the tactics of abusers.”
“If you are a survivor of abuse, of neglect, of verbal abuse, of sexual assault, et cetera, there’s the trauma of going through what you went through, and then there’s the trauma afterwards of people not believing or trying to publicly humiliate you or trying to embarrass you,” she said. “And that also gets internalized, too, because a lot of times you don’t want to believe it either. You don’t want to think that that happened to you.”
Again, the congresswoman called for holding her Republican colleagues accountable for creating conditions—whether by design or implicitly—that enabled the mob to take over the Capitol, and led to the deaths of five people.
“Accountability is not about revenge. It’s not about getting back at people. It’s not about any of that. It’s about creating safety,” she said. “And we are not safe with people who hold positions of power, who are willing to endanger the lives of others.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.