WASHINGTON – Sen. Martha McSally, the first US woman to pilot a fighter plane in combat, said on Wednesday that she was raped during her service in the Air Force by a superior officer.
McSally said she did not report the crime because she did not trust the system and was ashamed and confused, adding that she was impressed by – and grateful to – rape survivors who have come forward to help change the system.
She was in the ninth Air Force Academy class to include women and said that during her time in the service sexual harassment and assault were common, although victims mostly suffered in silence.
Reading from a prepared statement, McSally got choked up at one point and suggested that multiple “perpetrators” had sexually assaulted her.
Calling herself a “survivor of rape and betrayal,” McSally said that “I share the disgust of the failures of the military system and at many commanders who failed in their responsibilities.”
“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 at a Senate hearing about sexual assault in the US military.
The Arizona Republican, who served in the military for 26 years, said that “Like many victims, I thought the system was raping me all over again. But I didn’t quit. I decided to stay and continued to serve and fight and lead ... To be a voice from within the ranks for women, and then in the House, and now in the Senate. So this is personal for me, too.’
After relating details of the episode, although she did not identify her attacker or attackers, McSally said that military commanders must not be absolved of the responsibility to make decisions to prevent, detect and deal with military sexual assault.
“We must demand that commanders stay at the center of the solution and live up to the moral and legal responsibilities that come with being a commander. We must fix those distortions in the culture of our military that permit sexual harm towards women and yes, some men as well,” she said.
McSally said that some commanders are “naive” about the dangers of sexual assault, “and if the commander is the problem, or fails in his or her duties, they must be removed and held harshly accountable.”
In January, another Republican senator, Joni Ernst, said that she, too, had been raped during her university studies at Iowa State University.
After learning of the two accounts, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Republican lawmakers are “open” to any recommendations by the senators for legislation in this area.
“These kind of things that have occurred in people’s lives are terrible,” he said. “Whatever policy prescriptions Sen. McSally or Sen. Ernst may come up with, we certainly would be open to – This is obviously a big problem and if we can find a further way to address it, we should.”