Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) had a heartbreaking revelation Wednesday during a Senate hearing on the problem of sexual assault in the military. McSally, who was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, revealed that she had been “preyed upon and then raped” by a superior officer when she served in the Air Force.
"I am so inspired by the many survivors who found the strength to share their stories, report their assaults, and demand accountability, justice, and change," McSally told those gathered at the hearing. "It is because of you that a light has been shined on this silent epidemic and so many improvements have been made—including more than 100 legislative actions over the last decade—on all aspects of military sexual assault."
"So, like you, I also am a military sexual assault survivor, but unlike so many brave survivors, I didn’t report being sexually assaulted," she said.
McSally explained some of the reasons she didn’t report the assault. She did not disclose the name of the perpetrator or when the assault had occurred.
"Like so many women and men, I didn’t trust the system at the time,” she explained. “I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused. I thought I was strong but felt powerless. The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways. In one case I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer."
She said that she eventually felt the need to come forward and that the Air Force’s response left her “horrified.”
"I stayed silent for many years, but later in my career, as the military grappled with the scandals, and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know I too was a survivor," she said. "I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences was handled. I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years of service over my despair.”
“Like many victims,” she said. “I felt like the system was raping me all over again."
"I didn’t quit,” McSally concluded. “I decided to stay and continue to serve and fight and lead. To be a voice from within the ranks for women -- and then in the House and now the Senate."
The Associated Press notes that “reports of sexual assaults across the military jumped nearly 10 percent in 2017 — a year that also saw an online nude-photo sharing scandal rock the Defense Department.”
McSally’s story follows another disclosure from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) of suffering sexual assault in college.
McSally’s colleagues praised her courage in recounting her story. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) commented that she was "deeply affected by that testimony."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate would be open to suggestions from McSally and Ernst for policy prescriptions to address what is “obviously a big problem.”
McConnell on McSally saying she was raped by a superior officer in AF: Whatever policy prescriptions Sen McSally or Sen Ernst may come up with we’d certainly be open to..This is obviously a big problem and if we can find a further way to address it we should.— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) March 6, 2019