The Slatest

Arizona Sen. Martha McSally Says She Was Raped in Air Force by Superior Officer

Martha McSally speaks into a microphones.
Sen. Martha McSally speaks during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday on prevention and response to sexual assaults in the military.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona said during a Wednesday Senate hearing on sexual assault prevention in the armed services that she had been raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force. McSally, who served in the military for 26 years and was the first female pilot to fly in combat, said that she did not report the rape at the time because she did not trust the system for addressing such abuses.

“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,” McSally said. “I stayed silent for many years, but later in my career, as the military grappled with scandals and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know I too was a survivor. I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences were 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.”

During the hearing, McSally pressed for commanders to remain in the decision-making process for preventing sexual assaults and holding perpetrators responsible. An aide told CNN that the senator has been working on her testimony over the past few days.

McSally did not identify the person who assaulted her, nor the time or place of the incident. She began serving in the Air Force in 1988 and retired as a colonel in 2010. The senator also told the Wall Street Journal last year that her high school track coach sexually abused her when she was 17, an allegation that the coach denied.

“One of the many reasons why I ended up leaving Rhode Island and going to the Air Force Academy was to get away from him,” she told the Journal. “I needed to geographically get to another place.”

The Pentagon released a report in January indicating a 50 percent spike in instances of unwanted sexual conduct at the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the U.S. Military Academy. However, there was no corresponding increase in the number of incidents reported directly to authorities. The department is set to release another report on sexual assault in the military in the spring.

Correction, March 14: McSally began serving in the Air Force in 1988, not 1998, as this post originally stated.