On May 21, 2006, Kimberly Corban was a 20-year-old student completing her sophomore year at the University of Northern Colorado. She had just finished finals — summer was on its way. She had her whole life ahead of her.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Around five in the morning, a man broke into her apartment in Greeley, Colo., and, for almost two hours, sexually assaulted her.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to die,'” Corban, now 30, told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “There’s no going back from that.”
Corban’s story did not exactly have a happy ending — or, at least, the ending is ever-evolving. Though her assailant is now serving 24 years to life in prison, she struggled with depression, PTSD and stress-related seizures. And, speaking about her experience, she came to realize how important it was for women to have access to guns to protect themselves.
Then, Thursday night on national television, she got to confront the man she thought wanted to take her guns away: President Obama.
“As a survivor of rape, and now a mother to two small children — you know, it seems like being able to purchase a firearm of my choosing, and being able to carry that wherever my — me and my family are — it seems like my basic responsibility as a parent at this point,” she told Obama during “Guns in America,” CNN’s town hall, after the president announced executive orders on gun control Tuesday.
“I have been unspeakably victimized once already, and I refuse to let that happen again to myself or my kids. So why can’t your administration see that these restrictions that you’re putting to make it harder for me to own a gun, or harder for me to take that where I need to be is actually just making my kids and I less safe?”
First, Obama praised Corban for showing up.
“Well, Kimberly, first of all, obviously — you know, your story is horrific,” he said. “The strength you’ve shown in telling your story and, you know, being here tonight is remarkable, and so — really proud of you for that.”
Then, Obama tried, at length, to answer her question. He pointed out that, though he didn’t think Corban’s guns necessarily made her safer, he’s not trying to take them away.
“I just want to repeat that there’s nothing that we’ve proposed that would make it harder for you to purchase a firearm.” And: “You have to be pretty well trained in order to fire a weapon against somebody who is assaulting you and catches you by surprise.” And: “There’s always the possibility that that firearm in a home leads to a tragic accident.” And: “All I’m focused on is making sure that a terrible crime like yours that was committed is not made easier because somebody can go on the Internet and just buy whatever weapon they want without us finding out whether they’re a criminal or not.”
Corban wasn’t impressed.
“I would say it was more of a non-response,” she told The Post. “He kind of dodged the question.”
Saying Obama was working without a script or a teleprompter, Corban criticized the president’s insistence on talking about how guns endanger children every time he “got jammed” at the town hall. Doesn’t he understand that she has guns because she wants to keep her children safe in her family’s home?
“That’s where I understand this violence happens,” she said, mentioning that her daughter will be a year old soon. “It’s not just on the news. It’s not just in far-off places. My nightmares are real. They are my memories. I don’t want that for my own kid.”
If Corban’s challenge to the president impressed viewers, it’s perhaps because she has been outspoken about sexual assault since her own. She immediately reported the incident — and even left her rapist’s semen on her leg so police could get a DNA sample of her attacker. She testified for three hours at her assailant’s trial in 2007, helping convict a man who police told her would likely become a serial rapist, and perhaps even a serial killer.
“This happened to me for a reason, and maybe it was to help give women strength to speak up,” Corban said at the time. “I don’t care if you are a stripper or you’ve been drinking — rape is rape, and it’s not your fault. You didn’t ask for this.”
Her willingness to help convict a man — 25-year-old Ronnie Pieros — was publicly praised and, for more than a decade, Corban has continued to work on behalf of sexual assault survivors.
“Corban was clear-headed, strong-willed and visible in the public eye,” the Greeley Tribune editorialized in 2007. “Had she not acted in that manner it’s hard to say if Pieros wouldn’t be walking the streets today, plotting out his next twisted attack. But she did. She’s a free woman now. Pieros sits behind bars. Corban showed other victims how to plot the best revenge.”
“As awful as it was I have turned it into an experience hopefully others can learn from,” she said.
Addressing one of the most divisive issues in America just weeks ahead of the start of primary season in an election year, Corban’s question was provocative and was quickly embraced by conservative outfits like Glenn Beck’s the Blaze.
Kimberly Corban’s “claim that Obama keeps her from buying gun when she already owns one is ridiculous,” one Twitter user wrote. Another wrote: “Kimberly Corban is my hero. I can’t imagine the the courage it takes to stand up like that.”
Asked about her politics, Corban, a community relations director at the Weld County district attorney’s office in Colorado, described herself as “independent-minded.” Though public records show she once registered as a Republican and she criticized Vice President Biden’s views on gun control on the Blaze in 2013, she said she wasn’t prepared to endorse a presidential candidate — and stressed that she did not appear at “Guns in America” in her professional capacity.
“I just want the clear, easy facts not to get lost in the back and forth,” she said.
Asked about her armory, Corban wasn’t talking, though a photo of her packing heat is posted to her Twitter page.
“I actually typically try not to disclose that just for safety’s sake,” she said. “I do have a small concealed carry and I have other firearms which I choose to keep in my home.” To the president’s point that weapons can bring tragedy in homes, like hers, with small children, she said her guns are “completely secure.”
“You don’t have to carry a firearm,” she said. “I’m not telling you that you need to. I just want you to respect my right to do that myself.”