Sen. Martha McSally says superior officer raped her in Air Force
PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona revealed during a Senate hearing Wednesday that she was raped in the Air Force by a superior officer.
McSally, a 26-year military veteran and the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, made the disclosure at a hearing on the armed services’ efforts to prevent sexual assaults and improve the response when they occur.
She said she did not report being sexually assaulted because she did not trust the system and was ashamed and confused.
The freshman senator, who served in the Air Force from 1988 until 2010, did not name the officer who she said raped her.
“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, choking up as she detailed what had happened to her.
“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, I felt like the system was raping me all over again.”
The Arizona Republican also revealed last April that she was sexually abused by a high school track coach.
McSally’s new revelation comes not long after Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, detailed her own abuse and assault and at a time of increased awareness over the problem of harassment and assault in the armed forces.
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 said she shares in the disgust of the failures of the military system and many commanders who have failed to address the problems of sexual misconduct.
“We must educate, select, and further educate commanders who want to do the right thing but who are naive to the realities of sexual assault,” she said.
“We must ensure all commanders are trained and empowered to take legal action, prosecute fairly, and rid perpetrators from our ranks. And if the commander is the problem or fails in his or her duties, they must be removed and held harshly accountable.”
Defense officials have argued that an increase in reported assaults reflects a greater willingness to report attacks, rather than indicating assaults are rising. Sexual assaults are a highly underreported crime, both in the military and across society. Greater reporting, they argue, shows there is more confidence in the reporting system and greater comfort with the support for victims.
McSally said the public must demand that higher-ranking officials be part of the solution.
“We cannot command change from the outside alone — it must be deployed within — it must be built, constantly maintained, and expertly managed by commanders who are themselves educated, conditioned and given the tools to ensure what you survived — and what I survived — happens to no warrior under their command.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.