After Maine Sen. Susan Collins voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, sexual assault survivors who met with her call it 'a betrayal and a slap in the face'

By Diane Herbst
October 08, 2018 05:29 PM
Eleni Margaronis Photography

On the last Thursday night in September, Catherine Perreault took her motion sickness pills and boarded a coach bus with numerous other sexual assault survivors for an overnight journey of 540 miles from Portland, Maine, to Washington, D.C.

The 46-year-old office administrator had never been politically active. “And certainly I’ve never gotten on a bus in the middle of the night with a bunch of people I don’t know,” Perreault tells PEOPLE. “That was a big move for me.”

Perreault intended to share her experience of an attempted sexual assault during high school with her senator, Susan Collins. She hoped the Maine Republican would listen, and not vote to confirm to the highest court in the land Brett Kavanaugh, accused by multiple women of sexual assault. (He has denied all the allegations.)

During a Friday meeting with Collins and four other survivors, Perreault says she “was teary-eyed.” “I am looking Sen. Collins in the eye and I said, ‘Please please,’ and I thought she was teary-eyed too,” Perreault says. “I basically begged her to do the right thing. She was very present, and seemed sympathetic.”

Susan Collins
Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amanda O’Brien, 32, was also on that bus from Maine, and shared with Collins the sexual violence and abuse she suffered as a young child — personal and painful memories she always keeps to herself.

“She hugged us when we left,” says O’Brien, of Portland. “I felt she was going to vote no. People told me I was being naive and I said, ‘You didn’t look her in the eye, I looked her in the eye.’ ”

But a week later, Collins announced her intention to vote yes to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and followed through on that promise the next day.

This came despite Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate testimony where she said Kavanaugh allegedly pinned her down to a bed, groped her and tried to remove her clothes while both were in high school.

“It was a betrayal and a slap in the face,” says O’Brien. “I could not fathom how this woman could look me in the eye and say she understood women who don’t come forward and then vote to put a potential rapist in the highest court of the land.”

Collins said in a widely watched speech this past Friday and on talk shows Sunday that she believed that Ford was assaulted, but didn’t believe it was Kavanuagh; Ford testified she was “100 percent certain” it was Kavanaugh.

“It is so maddening,” O’Brien says, “to see [Collins] explain it away.”

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Perreault says she was “both shocked and not surprised” by Collins’ vote.

“Susan Collins has a tendency to put on a show that she is hearing her constituents and that she is a champion of women,” says Perreault, “but when it comes time for the actual vote she votes the party line.

“Why did she meet with us? What was that for? I am convinced she knew how she was going to vote,” Perreault says. “It is really stunning how betrayed I continue to feel.”

Now Perreault and O’Brien are channeling their rage into helping Democratic candidates win this November, and beyond that, backing a Democratic senate candidate to defeat Collins if she runs for re-election in 2020.

“I’ve seen women get energized for the first time,” says O’Brien. “Women are not a minority, we need to fight back.”

Plenty of others appear to be fighting back as well — including with their credit cards.

When Collins announced Friday afternoon she would vote yes, a Crowdpac fund for a yet-to-be-named Senate candidate to run against Collins in 2020 was inundated with donors. By 3:55 p.m. the site crashed.

“Senator Susan Collins has people more motivated than we’ve ever seen before,” Crowdpac tweeted. “Hold tight, we’ll be back shortly.”

By 5:39 p.m. the site was running again, Crowdpac said in a tweet.

As of Monday afternoon, the fund had raised $3,597, 557 from 122,161 donations, many in the amount of $20.20.

If Collins had voted no, donations would not have been withdrawn from donors’ credit cards, Diane Russell, a former Maine legislator, tells PEOPLE.

Susan Rice, a former top aide to President Barack Obama, said on Sunday that she will decide after the Nov. 6 midterm elections if she will challenge Collins.

“We have to channel all this rage and energy,” Russell says, “to electoral outcomes.”