Florida Republican Candidate Reveals Rape in TV Campaign Ad

PHOTO With just days to go until Election Day, a Florida state Senate candidate, Fla. Senate candidate Lizbeth Benacquisto reveals that she was raped at 19.PlayABC News
WATCH Candidate Discusses Her Rape in Political Ad

With just days to go until Election Day, a Florida state Senate candidate has used a televised campaign ad to drop a very personal bombshell.

"When I was 19 I was raped," Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto reveals to viewers. "And until now I've dealt with this privately."

The eleventh-hour advertisement attacked her opponent, Democratic State Rep. Kevin Rader for what she said was his assertion, made in his own televised ad, that Benacquisto's stance on abortion rights made criminals out of rape victims.

"For anyone to go so far in a political ad to characterize or claim that victims of rape or incest would become criminals crosses a line," she told ABCNews.com today. "I couldn't stand for any woman hearing that and thinking any of that was true."

Benacquisto's ad, which began airing Wednesday in Florida, has earned both praise and criticism.

"I'm at peace with any criticism that comes my way," she said. "I did it despite the fact that people, especially him, would criticize me."

Rader could not be reached for comment, but his campaign released a statement to ABC's West Palm Beach affiliate WPBF saying his "heart breaks for anyone who has been the victim of rape."

"It's stories like Ms. Benacquisto's that have led me to be so passionate about defending victims' rights and a woman's right to choose," the statement read, in part.

At issue is the candidates' debate over abortion rights, specifically an amendment that was passed this year by the Florida legislature and then vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist that would require a woman to see an ultrasound of her fetus before an abortion.

Rader has been quoted as staunchly opposed to the measure. Benacquisto said she supports the idea of an ultrasound before a woman chooses to have an abortion. She does not want the same rule applied to sexual assault victims because "they come to that choice from something that was forced on them."

Benacquisto, a former two-term city councilwoman from Wellington, said her controversial advertisement was shot on Tuesday, one day after she saw Rader's advertisement. Her decision to produce the ad meant that she would also reveal the rape to her teenage son and her 11-year-old daughter.

"It was not easy to do," she said of the decision to come forward with a story that only some members of her family knew. "I never would have done it save for that ad. This rests squarely on Kevin Rader's decision making."

Florida Newspaper Questions Timing of Ad Revealing Candidate's Rape

Benacquisto declined to share details of the attack, but said it happened 23 years ago, while she was a student at the University of Florida. She told only a school counselor. No one was ever prosecuted.

"Twenty-three years ago the climate was much different," she said of why she declined to speak out more about the attack at the time it happened. "The moment that you want to reveal what's happening to you and you hear even a breath that somebody is going to question you or somebody isn't going to believe you the door shuts."

The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board's Randy Schultz questioned the timing of Benacquisto's ad, writing in a Thursday editorial said Benacquisto had ample opporutnity to reveal her attack earlier in her campaign.

"The question is whether the ad is a courageous public admission forced on Ms. Benacquisto or a calculated move in a key campaign," Schultz wrote.

"Ms. Benacquisto's unwillingness to personally address basic questions about the ad - Was it her idea, or the party's?," he continued, "makes her look like a candidate seeking a last-minute advantage with a charge that any male candidate would find very hard to answer with another ad."

The Palm Beach Post had endorsed Rader.

Most of the comments on Benacquisto's Facebook page are supportive.

"Lizbeth, I am so proud of you! You are very brave and your ad is right on," one poster wrote.

Rader's Facebook page makes no mention of the ad.