Sen. Martha McSally says she was raped by a superior officer during Air Force service

  07 March 2019    Read: 1645
Sen. Martha McSally says she was raped by a superior officer during Air Force service

Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), the first female Air Force pilot to fly a combat mission, has come forward as a military sexual assault survivor.

"My drive to fight against sexual assault in the ranks is not from the outside looking in. It is deeply personal," McSally said on Tuesday at the opening of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on sexual assaults at the service academies.

McSally's voice was full of emotion as she told witnesses at Tuesday's hearing, "I also am a military sexual assault survivor."

The senator and combat veteran said she did not report what happened to her because she was scared, she blamed herself, and she did not trust the system.

"I thought I was strong but felt powerless," McSally said.

"The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways," she continued while mostly looking down at her prepared remarks. "In one case I was preyed upon and raped by a superior officer."

"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," McSally said as she pointed to herself, "I too was a survivor."

"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 as her voice nearly broke, "I felt like the system was raping me all over again."

McSally paused for a few seconds, took a deep breath, and then kept going.

"But I didn't quit," she said. "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."

"So, this is personal for me too—but it's personal from two perspectives – as a commander who led my airmen into combat and as a survivor of rape and betrayal."

An Air Force spokeswoman issued a statement on Tuesday in response to McSally's revelation that she had been raped while in the service.

"The criminal actions reported today by Senator McSally violate every part of what it means to be an airman," said Capt. Carrie Volpe. "We are appalled and deeply sorry for what Senator McSally experienced and we stand behind her and all victims of sexual assault. We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks."

McSally is an Air Force legend. As an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, she became the first female service member to fly a combat mission in 1995 when she enforced the No Fly Zone over Iraq. In 2004 she became the first woman to lead a fighter squadron when she took command of the 354th Fighter Squadron.

Fellow Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-N.Y.) has called for removing a sexual assault survivor's chain of command from the decision on whether or not to prosecute alleged offenders, but McSally argued on Tuesday that commanders should be educated about the realities of sexual assault.

"I share the disgust of the failures of the military system and many commanders who failed in their responsibilities," McSally said as she shook her head from side to side. "But it is for this very reason that we must allow--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."


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