A United States Senator, who was the first female combat pilot in the country’s air force, on Wednesday said she had been raped by a superior officer while serving in the army, Reuters reported. During a Senate hearing on sexual assault in the military, Arizona Republican Martha McSally said she did not report the incident because she blamed herself and did not trust the system.
McSally did not name the officer.
“The perpetrators abuse their position of power in profound ways, and in one case I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer,” she said. “But unlike so many brave survivors, I didn’t report being sexually assaulted. Like so many women and men, I didn’t trust the system. I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused. I thought I was strong but felt powerless.”
McSally said later in her career, she felt the need to let some people know that she was a survivor of sexual assault and that the military’s response to such scandals had been “wholly inadequate”.
“I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences were handled,” she said, adding that she almost quit the Air Force after 18 years. “Like many victims, I felt the system was raping me all over again.”
McSally retired from the US Air Force after rising to the rank of colonel, CNN reported. She was the first American woman to fly in combat after a ban on women was lifted. She told the hearing that commanders “must not be removed from the decision making responsibility of preventing, detecting, and prosecuting military sexual assault”.
Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who is a part of the committee, said the military “has utterly failed at handling sexual assault”.
‘We stand behind all victims of sexual assault’
“We are appalled and deeply sorry for what Senator McSally experienced and we stand behind her and all victims of sexual assault,” Air Force spokesperson Captain Carrie Volpe said in a statement. “We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behaviour and breach of trust in our ranks.”
Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York, the top Democrat on the committee, said she was “deeply affected by that testimony” and thanked McSally for sharing her story.
McSally’s testimony came less than two months after Republican Senator Joni Ernst, another Army veteran, revealed that she had been raped in college by an acquaintance and that her ex-husband had physically abused her. Ernst has worked with Gillibrand to combat sexual assault in the military.
The US Department of Defense in 2017 received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving serving members as victims or subjects of criminal investigation. According to a Pentagon report last year, this was nearly a 10% rise in reported cases from the previous year.