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U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, a 26-year military veteran and the first female fighter pilot in combat, said in a hearing Wednesday that she was raped by a superior officer in the U.S. Air Force.
McSally revealed the assault in a Senate hearing on sexual assault in the military and efforts to prevent it. She said she didn't report the assault because, like many other victims, she didn't trust the system.
"I blamed myself," she said. "I was ashamed and confused."
Years later, she said, she spoke up about the attack and was appalled at the way the military hierarchy handled her news.
"I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years of service," she said. "I felt like the system was raping me all over again."
McSally said the experience galvanized her resolve to advocate for sexual assault victims in the military, using her legislative position to work for change.
"My drive to fight against sexual assault in the ranks is not from the outside looking in," she said. "It is deeply personal."
McSally said high-ranking military officials should not be absolved of responsibility for the problem, but instead must be compelled to take part in the solution.
Last year, the Pentagon said it received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving service members in fiscal 2017 — a 9.7 percent increase over the number of reports made in fiscal 2016.
The U.S. military has been criticized for its response to reports of sexual assault, including backlash against the people who accuse other service members of sexual violence.