McSally Shares Story of Sexual Assault in the Air Force, Presses for Commander Education

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., shown here during Angel Thunder 17 in Gila Bend, Ariz., on May 13, 2017, discussed her experience with military sexual assault during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 6, 2019. Air Force photo by SSgt. Marianique Santos.

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former A-10 pilot and squadron commander, on Wednesday said she was raped by a superior officer during her Air Force career and that she almost quit the service after the horror of how she was received after sharing her story.

McSally, during a Senate Armed Services Committee Personnel Subcommittee hearing on sexual assault in the military, said the experience of the sexual assault and the reaction later in her career made her feel like “the system was raping me all over again.”

“I am also a military sexual assault survivor,” 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 at the time. I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused. I thought I was strong, but felt powerless.”

Inside the Air Force and broader military, many perpetrators of sexual assault abuse their positions of power, she said.

To address this, commanders need to stay at the center of the solution, but being made aware of the realities of sexual assault, be educated on how to report, and enforce the laws.

“We must select and further educate commanders who want to do the right thing but who are naïve to the realities of sexual assault,” she said.

McSally served 22 years in the Air Force and retired as a colonel.

Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Carrie Volpe issued a statement in the wake of McSally’s revelation, which was shared with Air Force Magazine.

“The criminal actions reported today by Senator McSally violate every part of what it means to be an Airman,” she wrote. “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.”