WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Senator Martha McSally said she was raped by a superior officer when she served in the Air Force and that when she tried to talk about it later with military officials, she "felt like the system was raping me all over again."
The Arizona Republican, the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, said she did not report instances of sexual assault while in the military because she, like others, did not trust the system for dealing with such incidents in the armed forces.
She made the revelation at a hearing on Wednesday (March 6) on the military's response to sexual assault reports.
"I thought I was strong but felt powerless. The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways," McSally, 52, said.
"In one case I was preyed upon and raped by a superior officer."
McSally said she didn't trust the system and so told no one for years.
"I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused. I thought I was strong but felt powerless," she said.
Years after the rape, she said she shared her experience and was "horrified" at how it 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," she said, tearing up.
But she said the military has gotten better at handling assaults in part because service members are speaking up about their experiences.
She said that although many commanders have failed to meet their responsibility in dealing with sexual assault cases, she opposes proposals to remove them from overseeing such cases, saying they must be held accountable for policing assaults and preventing them instead.
"We must ensure all commanders are trained and empowered to take legal action, prosecute fairly, and rid perpetrators from our ranks," she said.
"And if the commander is the problem or fails in his or her duties, they must be removed and held harshly accountable."
McSally has previously recounted abuse by a high school coach and has said she was harassed while in the Air Force. In 2004 she became the first woman to command an Air Force fighter squadron, and she retired as a full colonel in 2010 after 26 years in the Air Force, later serving in the House.
Her revelation follows the disclosure by her fellow Republican senator, Iowa's Joni Ernst, that she was raped in college by someone she knew and that her ex-husband physically abused her. Ernst also is a veteran.
McSally was appointed to serve the final two years of former Senator John McCain's Senate term after losing last year's race against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.