Sexual assault in the US military is awfully pervasive. According to the latest data, over 6,700 sexual abuse claims were filed in 2017 alone.
And these are but a small percentage of overall incidents, given that many survivors are discouraged from coming forward due to the military’s reluctance to investigate and hostility towards victims.
This is why US senator and veteran Martha McSally’s revelation on Wednesday (Mar. 6) that she, too, was raped while in service is especially brave and important.
“Like you, I am also a military sexual assault survivor,” the Arizona Republican told a congressional subcommittee on sexual assault and other victims in attendance. “But unlike so many brave survivors, I didn’t report being sexually assaulted.”
The newly minted senator went on to explain why she didn’t: “Like so many women and men, I didn’t trust the system at the time. I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused, and I thought I was strong but felt powerless.”
McSally was an aircraft pilot enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq in 1991, and was deployed to Kuwait a few years later. She became a commander in 2004. She said the people who abused her exploited their positions of power, including a superior who raped her. Though she initially decided not to report the episode, when she later did she was “horrified” at how the Army handled it, she said.
She perfectly encapsulated the feelings of many survivors when they realize they don’t have authorities’ support. “Like many victims, I felt the system was raping me all over again,” she said. “During my 26 years in uniform I witnessed so many weaknesses in the processes involving sexual assault prevention, investigation, and adjudication.”
McSally, who retired in 2010 as a colonel, urged her colleagues to reform the way sexual abuses are handled in the military.
Speaking with CBS this morning (Mar. 7), she said she spoke to empower other survivors, adding that the prevalence of sexual assault in the military is a national security threat.
The Air Force, where McSally served, expressed support for her. Commenting on her testimony, a spokesperson said “we are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks.” Despite the announced commitments, however, the changes have been slow and there has been little progress in accountability, as shown sexual assault reports by servicewomen, whose numbers have essentially remained unchanged since 2010.
Read McSally’s full testimony below: