When sexual harassment allegations surfaced last week against U.S. Sen. Al Franken, Abby Honold was shaken.
Franken, who had written a bill with Honold to help rape victims like herself, was now himself the focus of misconduct allegations. Honold decided she needed a different sponsor, fearing that legislation with Franken’s name attached could be doomed.
“I was not willing to sacrifice the future of the bill and have it associated in any way with someone accused of something like that,” Honold said.
But when Honold’s decision made national headlines, and she wrote an editorial in the Washington Post to explain her actions, some Franken supporters turned on her, accusing her of overreacting and throwing a supportive politician under the bus.
Even after new allegations have come out against Franken, including two in a new report Wednesday, Honold said she is still getting hateful messages.
“There isn’t much that’s more upsetting as a rape survivor than someone telling you or implying that you should be raped again,” Honold said. Still, she said, she’s not backing down. And Franken said he supports Honold’s decision.
“This bill does not now — nor did it ever — belong to me,” Franken said in a statement. “It only came to be because of Abby’s fearless dedication to improving the system for other survivors.”
Honold’s rape in November 2014 got attention across the country last year after the Star Tribune detailed the assault and Honold’s search for justice against her rapist, Daniel Drill-Mellum. After she was raped, Honold said the Minneapolis police detective investigating her case was combative and dismissive. Hennepin County prosecutors declined to press charges.
Drill-Mellum was charged only after an investigator with the University of Minnesota police took up the case. Drill-Mellum was sentenced to six years in prison.
After she went public with her story, Honold became an outspoken advocate for sex assault survivors, and wanted to get laws passed that would bring more rapists to justice. Drill-Mellum had once interned in Franken’s office, so she sent a letter to the senator, hoping the connection would make him more likely to support her cause.
He was, and the two drafted a bill that would establish a pilot program to train police investigators in better practices when interviewing sex assault victims. Franken’s office would work out the details, such as the amount of funding and who would do the training.
Honold and Franken held a joint news conference in October, where she praised the senator as a champion for survivors.
A few weeks later, she had surgery that put her in the hospital for two weeks. While there last Thursday, she learned of the accusations that Franken had groped and kissed a Los Angeles radio host without her consent in 2006.
Horrified, Honold wrote a tweet and Facebook post that day, saying she was heartbroken by the allegations, and hoped the legislation would be taken up by Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Franken’s office had planned to introduce the bill next week. Instead, they offered to give it to Honold to find another sponsor.
“They said, ‘This is your bill. This is your legislation. It has your name on it,’ ” Honold said.
The Washington Post wrote a story about Honold’s decision to find another sponsor. Many of the hundreds of online comments for the story criticized Honold.
“A guy snaps a tasteless selfie and now his entire life of being decent is moot?” one person wrote.
“Good luck finding any congressman who doesn’t have any transgressions to sponsor your bill,” wrote another.
While still in the hospital, Honold wrote an editorial for the Washington Post. She described the ordeal of bringing her attacker to justice, praised the support from Franken and his staff, but also empathized with Leeann Tweeden, the woman who posted the now infamous photo of Franken reaching for her chest.
“I am committed to keeping the work on track and finding a woman in the Senate to lead the efforts,” Honold wrote.
That column generated nearly 900 comments, many of them accusing Honold of lumping Franken in with a convicted rapist, while her Twitter timeline became flooded with angry posts.
“You disgust me,” Honold read on Twitter. “How dare you make it seem like Al Franken is a sexual predator?”
“You want to be a true champion, stand by that man and fight for all that he has fought for,” wrote another.
A few questioned whether Honold was raped. One person sent her a direct message saying: “Maybe one of these days someone will SHOW YOU what it feels like to REALLY BE RAPED.”
Honold said she is still getting vitriol from people who say they don’t believe the senator’s first accuser.
“It’s really mentally brought me back to last year when I shared my story and got messages like that,” Honold said.
She doesn’t regret her decision to back away from Franken. Last week, Klobuchar’s office said she will sponsor the bill. Honold said the two spoke on Saturday, with the senator saying she was confident that the bill can pass.
“The response this week has disappointed me, but I stand by the fact that I place victims first as much as I can,” she said. “I won’t always be perfect, but I had to make a quick call this week and prioritize the bill.”