The first female US fighter pilot to fly in combat has said she was sexually assaulted by a superior officer during her time in the Air Force.
Martha McSally, now a Republican senator, was giving evidence to a US Senate hearing on sexual assault in the military.
Senator McSally spent 26 years in the USAF, retiring as a full colonel, but said she had almost resigned her commission earlier in despair over how the authorities treated her. She has never named her attacker.
In her evidence she said: “I am also a military sexual assault survivor. 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, and I thought I was strong, but felt powerless. The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways. And in one case I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer.”
She went on to describe how, when she finally plucked up the courage to report the attack, she was let down by the system.
Senator McNally added: “I stayed silent for many years, but later in my career as a military grappled with scandals, and they’re wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know I too was a survivor.
“I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences were handled. I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years, over my despair. Like many victims I felt this system was raping me all over again.
“As a commander who led my airmen into combat and as a survivor of rape and betrayal, I share the disgust of the failures of the military system and many commanders who failed in their responsibilities.
“But it’s for this very reason that we must allow, we must demand that commanders stay at the centre of the solution, and live up to the moral and legal responsibilities that come with being a commander.”
Air Force spokeswoman Captain Carrie Volpe said in a statement: “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 behaviour and breach of trust in our ranks.”
Senator McSally was the first American woman to fly in combat following the 1991 lifting of the prohibition on female combat pilots.
She flew the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support aircraft over Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Southern Watch.
She was also the first female commander of a USAF fighter squadron.
After retiring from the Air Force she served four years in Congress representing Arizona before becoming a senator for the state in January this year.