Kuster says well-known surgeon Christiaan Barnard sexually assaulted her decades ago

  • The late Dr. Christiaan Barnard, a South African heart doctor, is shown in 1969. Barnard died in 2001. AP file

  • U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster speaks to the “Monitor” editorial board on Wednesday. Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/12/2016 10:29:24 PM

Donald Trump’s remarks about leveraging his fame to touch women sexually without their consent resonates with U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster.

“That’s actually what happened to me,” the Hopkinton Democrat said Wednesday, recalling a sexual assault she endured as a 23-year-old staffer on Capitol Hill. And for the first time, she publicly named the man she says assaulted her.

“He was known to everyone. He was Dr. Christiaan Barnard,” Kuster said. Barnard was a South African surgeon who performed the world’s first human heart transplant. He died in 2001.

Kuster said she had been invited to a meeting with Barnard and the congressman she was working with, a meeting she said she had been “honored” to be included in.

“And partway through the meeting, I realized that he had his hand under my skirt. And I’m not going to quote (Trump) – with the term that he used – but that’s what was happening,” Kuster said.

Kuster called the comments uttered about women by the Republican presidential nominee 11 years ago “reprehensible” – but a boon to the national conversation about sexual assault.

“Ironically, I believe that Mr. Trump’s statements created a discussion that the country needs to have around lack of consent,” Kuster said in reference to a taped conversation between Trump and then-Access Hollywood host Billy Bush.

Kuster, who initially broke a 40-year silence about her own experiences with sexual assault on the floor of the U.S. House this summer, made these comments Wednesday in an editorial board meeting with the Monitor.

The two-term incumbent is running for re-election in the 2nd Congressional District against Republican challenger Jim Lawrence.

In the off-air tape leaked to press last week, Trump is heard boasting that he can’t help but kiss beautiful women as soon as he encounters them.

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump added. “Grab ’em by the p---y. You can do anything.”

Trump has defended the comments as “locker room talk.” But many, including some Republicans, have noted that his remarks describe a textbook case of sexual assault.

“Juries have been struggling with this consent issue for a long time. And Mr. Trump, inadvertently, defined lack of consent,” Kuster said.

Kuster added that despite experiencing sexual assault, talking about the issue in Congress and on college campuses had been hugely instructive.

“I never knew the scope of it,” Kuster said, citing one New Hampshire survey that found that nearly 23 percent of women had experienced sexual assault.

“My point is that it happens all the time,” she said. “What I want to do is help continue this conversation as a national dialogue so that we can change that.”

Kuster also referenced a study published in 2002 by David Lisak, then a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Paul Miller, then a clinical psychologist at Brown University School of Medicine.

“His theory and his research is that it’s a very small number, percentage of men who are essentially predators, repeat offenders – 3 percent is the number that he uses. And the problem is, because we don’t have consequences for those 3 percent, every woman is at risk, all of the time,” she said. “But the reality is, 97 percent of the men can be part of the solution. And that’s where I’m coming from.”

The study, whose findings suggest a sliver of serial offenders account for the vast majority of rapes, has been highly influential and is oft-cited by advocates.

But new research published in 2015 by Kevin Swartout, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State University, contests those conclusions – and argues its data suggest a much broader pool of men commit rapes.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)

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