Sen. Martha McSally, during an emotional congressional hearing on military sexual assault Wednesday, said a superior Air Force officer raped her.
McSally, the nation's first female fighter pilot to serve in combat, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that she was “preyed upon and raped by a superior officer."
"I also am a military sexual assault survivor, but unlike so many brave survivors, I didn’t report being sexually assaulted," McSally said. "Like so many women and men, I didn’t trust the system at the time. 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 served in the Air Force for 26 years and mostly flew the A-10.
"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," she continued. "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, I felt like the system was raping me all over again."
"But I didn’t quit," said Mcsally. "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."
"The criminal actions reported today by Senator McSally violate every part of what it means to be an Airman," said an Air Force spokesperson. "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."
"I hope I’m going to see her in a little while so I can give her a hug and tell her how sorry I am because these type of things can affect you the rest of your life," Representative Debbie Lesko of Arizona, McSally's fellow Republican in the Arizona congressional delegation, told ABC News' "The Briefing Room."
"I’m a survivor of domestic violence, so I’ve had other issues," said Lesko. "But this is a huge issue, not only in the military but across all sectors."
"We need to address issues of women being sexually abused and domestic violence," she added.
"These kind of things that have occurred in people's lives are terrible," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) when asked for his reaction to McSally's disclosure. "This is obviously a big problem and if we can find a further way to address it, we should," he said.
The Pentagon's annual report on sexual assault in the military will be released later this spring.
According to last year's report there were 6,769 reports of sexual assault, a 10 percent increase over the previous year.
In January, the Pentagon released its report on sexual assault in military service academies, finding a nearly 50 percent spike in the prevalence of unwanted sexual contact at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy.
Pentagon officials were concerned about the significant increase, as well as the fact that the number of incidents reported directly to authorities remained relatively unchanged.