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Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a retired Air Force colonel and the first female fighter pilot to fly a combat mission, revealed on Wednesday that she was raped by a superior officer while in the military.
"So, like you, I also am a military sexual assault survivor, 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 at the time," McSally said at an Armed Services Committee Subcommittee hearing on military sexual assault.
"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. In one case, I was preyed upon and raped by a superior officer."
She added, "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."
McSally, 52, who was tapped last year to fill the late GOP Sen. John McCain’s Senate seat, is one of the few women members of Congress who has served in the military. Her revelation on Wednesday comes amid the waves of women, including lawmakers, who have shared their stories of sexual assault and recent sexual misconduct scandals that have rocked the military.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, another military veteran, revealed this past January that she was raped as a student at Iowa State University.
During the hearing on Wednesday, McSally said she was disturbed by how the military investigates allegations of sexual assault, which led her to strongly advocated for needed reforms.
"During my 26 years in uniform, I witnessed so many weaknesses in the processes involving sexual assault prevention, investigation, and adjudication," she said. "It motivated me to make recommendations to Air Force leaders, shaped my approach as a commander, and informed my advocacy for change while I remained in the military and since I have been in Congress."
"We have come a long way to stop military sexual assault but we still have a long way to go."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday said he was open to working with McSally and Ernst on ways Congress can address the issue.
"These kind of things that have occurred in people's lives are terrible," he said. "Whatever policy prescriptions Senator McSally or Senator 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."
The U.S. Air Force responded to McSally on Wednesday, saying in a statement that the agency was "appalled and deeply sorry" for what McSally experienced and that it was committed to eliminating the problem.
"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," Air Force spokesperson Capt. Carrie Volpe said in a statement. "We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks."