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Rep. Martha McSally says she was sexually abused in high school

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PHOENIX — U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, who is running for the Arizona U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake, told the Wall Street Journal she was sexually abused by a high school track coach.

“It took a while for me to come to a place where I understood what the hell I had been through,” McSally, 52, said in an interview published by the Journal on Monday. “At the time, I was so afraid. I now understand — like many girls and boys who are abused by people in authority over them — there’s a lot of fear and manipulation and shame.”

The congresswoman from Tucson said the abuse occurred when she was 17 and a senior at St. Mary Academy-Bay View, an all-girls Catholic school in Riverside, Rhode Island. She said the coach pressured her into having sex with him and used psychological tactics to keep her quiet.

The Journal reported that the school’s track coach at the time was Jack Dwyer. Dwyer confirmed that he coached McSally but denied the allegations.

“I believe she’s nuts,” Dwyer told the newspaper. “That girl is the most scheming woman I ever met.”

The Journal reported that McSally considered taking legal action roughly 10 years later but decided against it for various reasons:

Because she had been 17 at the time, the coach couldn’t be accused of statutory rape under Rhode Island law, which criminalizes most consensual sex with individuals under 16. Alleging sexual assault and abuse of power also looked challenging. “That’s difficult to prove the morning after, let alone 10 years after,” Ms. McSally said, adding that the statute of limitations, which has exceptions for some sexual assault, would also be a hurdle. Her only legal option appeared to be filing a civil lawsuit for damages, which didn’t appeal to her.

She had told her friends and family and felt like she “was in a healthy place. I’m not going to go into a court,” she said.

McSally also told the newspaper one reason she attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado was to get away from the coach.

“I needed to geographically get to another place,” she said.

According to McSally’s website, she served 26 years in the Air Force before retiring in 2010. In 1995, she became the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat.

She’s served in the House since 2015 and in January joined the race to be the Republican candidate for Senate.

Her campaign released a statement to media outlets after the Journal published its article Monday.

“During the course of a recent interview about my path as an endurance athlete and completing the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, I shared some dark experiences from my past,” the congresswoman said in the statement.

“These experiences don’t define me, but only deepened and strengthened my resolve to not be powerless, and dedicate my life to fight for others, especially girls, women and the vulnerable.”

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