Why Sen. Martha McSally Didn’t Report Her Sexual Assault

Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) made a stunning allegation during a Senate hearing this week that a higher-ranking officer raped her during her time in the Air Force. She said she almost left the military because of how officials handled sexual assault cases like hers.

“Like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me all over again,” McSally, who served for more than two decades and became the first female Air Force fighter pilot to fly in combat, told fellow lawmakers during a hearing Wednesday about sexual assault in the military.

McSally said she didn’t report the assault at the time, citing a reason that many survivors of sexual assault use to explain why they do not turn to authorities.

“I felt like I didn’t have any options at the time,” McSally told “CBS This Morning” host Norah O’Donnell in an interview that aired Friday. “Honestly, I didn’t even think about reporting it. That’s kind of the environment we were in at the time. There’s a lot of denial. There’s a lot of confusion. You kind of, you know, just suck it up.”

She said she later did report the assault, but felt dismayed at military officials’ response, which she criticized as “really junior varsity.” She recalled how investigators repeatedly interrogated her about details of the attack. 

“I was mortified,” she said. “You bring me in and interrogate me as if I’m the perpetrator, even in the tone and the approach and just the ignorance. … They failed on the job, big time. I got up, and I left, and I dropped a bunch of swear words, just to be frank.”

McSally hesitated when asked whether she regrets not reporting the incident at the time.

“I always, you know, like to look forward and not back,” she said. “It’s very difficult to put myself back into the shoes of where I was at the time.” She added that “each person has to make their own decision” whether to report a sex crime.

“Of course, I would want them to report it. Of course, I would want the opportunity for, immediately, there to be an investigation that they can then quickly find justice for that victim,” she said. “Of course, that’s what I want. I’m just saying, I’m not going to tell a victim what to do.”

Asked if she had “confidence in the system right now,” McSally said: “We have a lot of work to do.”

Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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