Revisiting Old Wounds

Congresswoman Opens Up On Being Raped During Military Service

by Gottfried Moh

Revisiting Old Wounds

Senator Martha McSally of Arizona revealed on Wednesday March 6 that she was raped while she served in the military. McSally, who is a Republican, made the revelation during a Senate Armed Services sub-committee hearing on sexual assault in the military

McSally said to witnesses present, "So like you, I am also a military sexual assault survivor," but she says she did not report and did not trust the system to do so. Welling up with emotion, McSally said she almost left the Air Force over her despair.

"Like many victims, I felt the system was raping me all over again. But I didn't quit, I decided to stay," she said after taking a pause to gather herself.

She called the issue of sexual assault in the military a "deeply personal" topic for her. She said at one point she "was preyed upon and raped by a superior officer."

"We've come a long way to stop military sexual assault but we have a long way to go," she added.

McSally rose to the rank of colonel in the US Air Force before retiring. She was the first American woman to fly in combat after a ban on women was lifted.

Photo Credit: Arizona Daily Star

The top Democratic member on the committee, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, thanked McSally for sharing her story, saying that she was "deeply affected by that testimony."

An Air Force spokesperson said, "The criminal actions reported today by Senator McSally violate every part of what it means to be an Airman."

"We are appalled and deeply sorry for what Senator McSally experienced and we stand behind her and all victims of sexual assault," Captain Carrie J. Volpe said in the statement. "We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks."

While McSally is one of only a few women in Congress to publicly discuss their #metoo story, Wednesday's revelation comes less than two months after another Republican senator shared her own experience with sexual assault, though under vastly different circumstances.

In January, Senator Joni Ernst, the highest ranking woman in Republican Senate leadership and an Army combat veteran, said she was "forced out as a survivor" of mental and physical abuse by her former husband and that she was raped by a boyfriend in college, following the public reporting of her divorce papers.

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Ernst spoke publicly for the first time about her experiences while in her home state of Iowa, following several media reports based on statements from her divorce filing, which she said required her to address the issues before she was ready.

"I didn't want to share it with anybody, and in the era of #metoo survivors, I always believed that every person is different and they will confront their demons when they're ready," Ernst said in an interview with Bloomberg at the time. "And I was not ready."