It was all so spontaneous.
Maria Gallagher, 23, had come to the Hart Senate office building on Friday morning to protest the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And as part of her responsibilities, she’d been tasked with camping out outside of Sen. Jeff Flake’s office to somehow, someway, persuade him to vote no.
She never imagined she’d actually see the senator walk down the hall to make his way to the Judiciary Committee where he would cast a vote. Nor did she expect that news would emerge, at that moment, that he would vote yes on the nomination after having wavered for days about what to do.
And yet, there Flake was, tall and slender, dressed in a sharp suit and white shirt, making his way to the elevator.
“It was all kind of a blur,” Gallagher recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast. “We all ran after him. We held open the elevator and I just started telling him why it was important and what had happened to me and why he should not let Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.”
What followed was an excruciating exchange that lasted only five minutes in time but could, just maybe, change the course of history. After another woman, Ana Maria Archila, admonished Flake for supporting Kavanaugh, Gallagher jumped in.
“I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me,” she said. “I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter.”
“Don’t look away from me,” she said, her voice ripped with emotion. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me, that you will let people like that go into the highest court of the land and tell everyone what they can do to their bodies.”
Flake stared down, ashen-faced, as the elevator door stayed propped open.
“He wouldn’t meet my eyes,” recalled Gallagher. “It made me very angry. He kept saying thank you and I’m sorry and wasn’t taking into account what his actions would be doing to millions of people and what this means for everyone.”
It was about two hours later now and Gallagher was still clearly shaken by all that had transpired. She declined to talk about her assault, saying it was still too raw. She wouldn’t even say how old she was when it happened.
She had never expected to relay the most emotional moment of her life to a United States senator. She had never actually told anyone before. It had just come out, right there, in front of everyone, soon to be broadcast on national TV.
Her mother had called her after seeing it on cable. Even she had not known. Gallagher needed to step outside to go and talk to her about it. “This won’t be an easy conversation,” she said.
At that point, it seemed, her soul-baring had all been for naught. A vote had been scheduled for 1:30 p.m., and it appeared that Kavanaugh, with Flake’s blessing, was going to be voted out of the Judiciary Committee and then to the Senate floor, where he’d likely get just enough support for passage.
“It is consistently terrible,” Gallagher said of that prospect. “It is showing that there is such a culture in our country of treating women like they’re objects and women’s bodies are yours for the taking and if they tell you the truth and tell you what happened to them it doesn’t matter. These people will be promoted anyway.”
And then, Flake changed his mind. The senator announced that he would vote Kavanaugh out of committee. But he said he wouldn’t vote for the nominee on the floor without an FBI investigation into allegations that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted someone in high school. A moment in an elevator—an emotional confrontation with a young woman he had never met before and likely won’t again—had seemed to help change his mind.
Gallagher couldn’t be reached for her reaction to the about-face but did put out a tweet of relief.
Earlier, she had expressed a small bit of optimism that even though it would likely end in confirmation, the process around Kavanaugh’s nomination maybe—just maybe—would have some kind of positive effect. And it certainly seemed so. Yards away from her, a group of women sat on the concrete floor in a circle recounting their stories of being abused and raped. “I have literally told no one else this story before I talked to you all,” one said.
“It is frustrating and something that needs to change,” Gallagher said, “and I think things like this are hopefully a step in the right direction for our country.”