Why Martha McSally's Decision To Come Out As Sexual Assault Survivor Matters

Photo: J Scott Applewhite/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
Sen. Martha McSally revealed during a powerful testimony Wednesday that she was raped by a superior officer while she served in the Air Force. The Arizona Republican spoke before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee, which was holding a hearing meant to address the issue of sexual assault in the military.
This marks the second time in recent months that a high-profile Republican woman has come out as a survivor of gender violence. In January, Sen. Joni Ernst revealed that she was raped in college and that her former husband had abused her.
"So like you, I am also a military sexual assault survivor," McSally told other witnesses who were also speaking of their experiences. The freshman senator said she didn't report the assault at the time because she didn't trust the system to take any measures. She didn't name her abuser, either.
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"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, I decided to stay."
McSally, who was appointed to the seat of the late Sen. John McCain in December, is the first woman fighter pilot to fly combat missions in the history of the U.S. She was a colonel before retiring after 26 years of service. Her experience with sexual assault in the military is far from being the exception. A recent poll found that two-thirds of the women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces have either being sexually assaulted or harassed.
It's also not the first time either that McSally has disclosed she is a survivor: Last year, she revealed she was abused by her track coach when she was a high school senior. As a high-profile Republican woman, her decision to speak up represents a major shift in Congress, which has seen survivors on both sides of the aisle address their experiences and demand change — be it in the way the military handles sexual misconduct or the way Capitol Hill deals with sexual harassment.
McSally is also aware of the power she held by speaking up at the hearing. "If anybody last night or 50 years ago has also been through a sexual assault, I just want to give them some hope. I want to shine a flashlight for them, that today can be a new day. That they can find some healing in their own lives," McSally told CBS in an interview Thursday. "They can find their own purpose and not be held back and not be stopped from fulfilling all of their potential in life because of the awful things that they were victimized from. Don't let your assaulter rob you of your future. Don't do it."
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