Four Republican Nebraska state senators announced the creation of a legal defense fund for women who have said they were groped by Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster. From left are Sens. Lou Ann Linehan, Joni Albrecht, Suzanne Geist and Rita Sanders. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
LA VISTA — Four Nebraska state senators announced a fundraising effort Tuesday to cover potential legal costs for any women or witnesses who might come forward with credible allegations of sexual impropriety by gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster.
State Sens. Lou Ann Linehan, Joni Albrecht, Suzanne Geist and Rita Sanders emphasized their support for their colleague, Sen. Julie Slama. Each reiterated her belief that Slama was telling the truth when she said Herbster groped her in 2019.
“Julie is not here, but the five of us are often together on issues,” Linehan said. “We’re the only five Republican women on the floor. It makes this kind of a small but important little club. … We have each others’ backs.”
Slama is one of eight women who alleged in an April 14 Nebraska Examiner article that Herbster groped them at political events and beauty pageants over the past six years. She was the only woman who spoke on the record.
Herbster sued Slama for defamation on Friday and has attacked her in a new TV ad. Slama countersued Herbster on Monday, alleging sexual battery.
Linehan said those eight women and several people who corroborated their allegations need to know they’re not alone.
“We knew that the brave women who told their stories could have their character and motives questioned and slandered,” Linehan said. “It happens far too often to the survivors of sexual assault when they make the courageous choice to come forward.”
Herbster’s campaign manager, Ellen Keast, said in a statement that Herbster would “continue to fight to expose politically motivated lies, to clear his good name, and to focus on the issues that he will tackle as the next governor of Nebraska.”
Linehan said the four senators did not expect Herbster to use the state’s legal system against Slama for speaking out. They asked affected women and witnesses to visit their new website. The senators said they didn’t have any money raised yet but are confident they will raise what they need.
Geist and Albrecht said they have received a letter from Herbster’s legal team telling them to preserve documents in preparation for a possible lawsuit, after they and the 11 other women in the Nebraska Legislature signed a letter calling on Herbster to quit the governor’s race.
Geist said any time the justice system is used to secure silence from people for telling the truth, it hurts sexual assault survivors and, in turn, the entire state.
“I won’t be intimidated into silence, and I won’t stand for any attempt to silence survivors and witnesses of this sexual assault,” Geist said. “It’s reprehensible.”
All four senators acknowledged they have endorsed Herbster rival Jim Pillen for governor. They stressed that their action in establishing a defense fund is “not about politics.”
“It’s about sending a message loud and clear that survivors and witnesses won’t be bullied or intimidated into silence in our state,” Sanders said.
Geist said Herbster’s actions could have a chilling effect on victims of any sexual assault.
Linehan said she worries about the women who made allegations about Herbster but were afraid to speak on the record for fear of a backlash.
“This is why Julie has been so brave,” Linehan said. “It’s a lot easier to just move on. We wouldn’t know there were seven other victims if not for Julie.”
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