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Republican lawmaker under fire for inserting colleagues’ names into book rape scene in senate floor speech

Republican lawmaker under fire for inserting colleagues’ names into book rape scene in senate floor speech

A Republican lawmaker is under fire for inserting his colleagues’ names into a rape scene of a book as he read the passage aloud on the state Senate floor.

Nebraska state Senator Steve Halloran was taking part in a debate over a bill related to book bans when he read out a passage from Lucky, by Alice Sebold.

The book includes a graphic description of a rape Ms Sebold survived during college.

Mr Halloran did not read the passage verbatim, but instead replaced the perpetrator’s name with “Senator Cavanaugh”, referencing Nebraska Democratic Senators John Cavanaugh and Machaela Cavanaugh, who are siblings.

“He kicked me and I crawled into a ball. I want a blow job, Senator Cavanaugh,” said Mr Halloran, partially reciting dialogue from the book. “I’ve never done it before. I said, I’m a virgin. Put it in your mouth. I kneel before him, Senator Cavanaugh.”

Ms Cavanaugh slammed Mr Halloran for his stunt on the Senate floor, fighting back tears as she exclaimed she didn’t know he was “capable of such cruelty”.

“I have done nothing but try to have a respectful debate with Senator Albrecht about her bill that impacts my children,” she said. “That was so out of line and unnecessary, and disgusting to say my name over and over again like that.”

Nebraska State Senator Steve Halloran (AP)
Nebraska State Senator Steve Halloran (AP)

Ms Cavanaugh also condemned Mr Halloran for pulling such a stunt when there are women in the legislature who have survived sexual violence.

Within hours, condemnations of Mr Halloran ramped up, with fellow state senators Megan Hunt, an independent, and Julie Slama, a Republican, calling for him to resign from public office.

“Honestly, I think Halloran should resign,” Ms Hunt posted to X. “How dare he even form his mouth to say the words, ‘Give me a blow job Senator Cavanaugh.’ He said that because he wanted to say it. It was beyond the pale. Pure aggression to read a rape scene out loud and put it like that. Broken brain.”

The head of the state’s Democratic Party, Precious McKesson, also joined calls for Mr Halloran to resign, calling the stunt “unacceptable”.

“This is unacceptable and Halloran needs to resign ASAP,” she said. “No woman should ever endure this from anyone. Resign now.”

The debate had been centred around a bill introduced by Republican Joni Albrecht, who is seeking to prevent teachers and librarians from sharing “obscene” material with students even when it is for educational purposes.

Ms Albrecht said she was taken aback by Mr Halloran’s stunt and apologised to Ms Cavanaugh on the floor, saying she was “mortified”.

However, she did not call on Mr Halloran to apologise or resign.

Mr Halloran finally apologised for his comments on Tuesday morning, conceding it was a “mistake” to incorporate the Cavanaugh family into the graphic passage.

Yet, he also sought to defend his actions.

State Senator Machaela Cavanaugh slammed Mr Halloran for his stunt (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
State Senator Machaela Cavanaugh slammed Mr Halloran for his stunt (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“I was not trivialising rape,” he insisted. “I was reading from a book that’s required reading for some students. Should I have interjected the senators’ names? No. Sometimes we do things on the floor in the midst of making a statement that we shouldn’t have done.”

The incident comes as a wave of book bans are sweeping across the US, with libraries and schools in Republican states having books banned for their “sexually explicit material”.

There were at least 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles within the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, according to PEN America. The figures mark a nearly 30 per cent spike from book challenges over the previous year.

Lucky was one of the most banned books in the country during the 2021-22 school year, owing to its explicit rape scene, which Nebraska Republicans have argued is not appropriate for children.

Mr Cavanaugh has argued that, while the book is graphic, it should remain in schools because it depicts the reality of life.

“There are graphic scenes in books. There are graphic things that happen to people in life, and stories have context, and they give meaning to the people who read them, who feel alone,” he said, according to the Daily Beast. “The whole point is that we cannot make a determination writ large about what has value and to whom it has value.”