March 7 (UPI) — Sen. Martha McSally said during a congressional hearing Wednesday that she was raped by a superior officer while serving in the U.S. Air Force.
McSally, 52, made the revelation during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel discussing methods to prevent and better respond to sexual assaults in the military in the future.
“Like you, I also am a survivor, but unlike so many brave survivors, I didn’t report being sexually assaulted,” she said. “Like so many women and men, I didn’t trust the system at the time. I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused. I thought I was strong but felt powerless.”
McSally served in the Air Force for more than two decades and was the first U.S. female fighter pilot to fly in combat before retiring as a colonel.
During her time in the Air Force, McSally said she witnessed weaknesses in how leaders handled the prevention, investigation and adjudication of reports of sexual assaults. She said she didn’t report her assault because she didn’t believe her alleged attacker would be held accountable.
She also stayed silent about the experience for years, but was later prompted by the military’s “wholly inadequate responses” to other cases to let others know she was also a victim.
“I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences was handled,” she said. “I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years of service over my despair. Like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me all over again.”
McSally said that commanding officers shouldn’t be removed from decision-making responsibility in handling sexual assault allegations.
“There are many commanders who would welcome taking this responsibility off their plate,” she said. “Those are the very commanders we don’t want leading our troops.”
McSally, a Republican, was appointed to the Senate seat once held by the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in December. While running for the Senate left vacant by Sen. Jeff Flake last year, she revealed in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that she had been pressured by her high school athletic coach into having sex with him when she was 17.