In a new cover story interview for GQ Magazine, two-term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) shared reflections on the sexual assault she says took place in her early 20s. The politician had kept the experience rather private until shortly after Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021—an incident through which she feared she might be raped.
“I could not talk about that day without disclosing [the assault], because it was such a central part of my experience,” she told GQ. “I felt like I could not really adequately communicate what that experience was without giving people the context of what I had lived through and what was being echoed, because so much of it was about resonance and fear of a thing that was not theoretical but a fear of a thing that I had experienced.”
Ocasio-Cortez says she was assaulted in her early 20s by a person she was dating but not sexually active with. When she confronted him about forcing himself upon her, he denied the incident. “The insistence on a denial of what happened that very, very clearly happened is also a through line with other women’s experiences, friends that I’ve had, or just a pretending that what very clearly happened, did not happen,” she said. “That, too, is also an assertion of power, and so this assertion of power and dominance over others is not limited to the actual physical fact, but how things are treated afterwards.”
In the weeks following the insurrection, AOC posted an Instagram live story in which she explained the parallels between her assault and her colleagues’ reactions to the insurrection. “I’m a survivor of sexual assault and I haven’t told many people that in my life,” she said during the livestream. “When we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other. [...] The reason why I think it’s important for us to hold [the January 6 attack] to account is that because we know, if we do not hold people accountable, what they’re asking for when they say ‘Can we just move on?’ is [...], ‘Can we just forget this happened so I can do it again? Without recourse?’”
Since being elected into Congress in 2018, a culture of violence and scrutiny has followed Ocasio-Cortez and her every move—primarily by members of the conservative right, but by those in her party, too. In May 2020, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) confronted AOC outside of the House chamber to ask her why she supports “terrorist groups” like Black Lives Matter, before promptly challenging her to a debate. Two months later, Rep. Ted Yoho (R.-Fla.) infamously called her “disgusting,” “crazy,” and “out of her mind” while passing by her on the Capitol steps, and later referred to her as a “fucking bitch”—an incident to which she fiercely shot back against on the House floor.
Though she now serves as co-chair of Biden’s climate task force, Ocasio-Cortez tells GQ that it wasn’t until her second term where the Democratic party started “treating [her] like a member of Congress and not an accident.” And while she has taken these incidents with grace and vigor, it’s obvious that the years of direct harassment has gotten to her: “Imagine working a job and your bosses don’t like you and folks on your team are suspicious of you. And then the competing company is trying to kill you.”
Unsurprisingly, the sheer volume and intensity of the ill-will against her has influenced AOC’s outlook on her political future. When asked about whether or not she’ll ever run for president, the politician gave an ambivalent, teary-eyed response. “I hold two contradictory things [in mind] at the same time,” she told GQ. “One is just the relentless belief that anything is possible. But at the same time, my experience here has given me a front-row seat to how deeply and unconsciously, as well as consciously, so many people in this country hate women. And they hate women of color.”
“People ask me questions about the future. And realistically, I can’t even tell you if I’m going to be alive in September. And that weighs very heavily on me. And it’s not just the right wing. Misogyny transcends political ideology: left, right, center. This grip of patriarchy affects all of us, not just women; men, as I mentioned before, but also, ideologically, there’s an extraordinary lack of self-awareness in so many places. And so those are two very conflicting things. I admit to sometimes believing that I live in a country that would never let that happen.”
Despite this, AOC remains hopeful about the potential for change: “The world that we’re fighting for is already here. It may not be all here, it may not be the majority of what’s here, but it is undeniably here.”