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Sen. McSally Says She Too Is A Military Sexual Assault Survivor

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Arizona Republican Senator Martha McSally revealed yesterday that she was raped during her time in the military. Before entering politics, McSally served 26 years in the Air Force. She was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat. During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, she revealed that she was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer during that time.

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MARTHA MCSALLY: 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.

GREENE: McSally and others at this hearing on sexual assault in the military expressed disgust at what they said are failures of the military system to address this problem. I spoke earlier to Claudia Grisales. She covers Congress for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. And I asked her how people in the room reacted to the senator's revelation.

CLAUDIA GRISALES: It was a very dramatic moment. She sits on the committee. She's a freshman senator. Folks are just getting to know her in the upper chamber. And when she made the admission, it appeared to shock the room. It changed the tone of the hearing and just brought a heavier gravity to the discussion of sexual assault in the military.

GREENE: What did she say exactly about what she went through?

GRISALES: She said she initially blamed herself, was ashamed, confused and felt powerless. And she noted that perpetrators abused their positions of power in profound ways. And when she hit the 18-year mark in her career, she considered quitting the military but later found, as she saw the services grappling with sexual misconduct scandals, that she felt the need to let other people know that she too was a survivor. So she identifies as a survivor. And she says it's a personal issue and wants to make change and wants to see commanders who have failed in their responsibility address this major concern for the services.

GREENE: I want to ask you about some of the sound we heard from her. She said, like so many brave survivors, I didn't report being sexually assaulted. Like so many men and women, I didn't trust the system. Is that still the case in the military? There might be other people who have gone through this who just feel, if they come forward, they can't trust the system to serve them.

GRISALES: Yes, definitely. Unfortunately, there are service members out there today who still feel that fear of speaking out because there are remaining concerns. While at the same time, the military has seen recently by a - 2018, for example - a record level of sexual assault reports - more than 5,000 who were seeking a law enforcement investigation. Work remains to gain their trust to speak out as anecdotal reports suggest that retaliation is still a major concern. And prosecution levels haven't kept pace.

GREENE: Do McSally and others feel like the military is making progress in stopping this, in addressing this?

GRISALES: They felt that it was incremental, and it's not enough. In 2010, the annual rate of sexual assault of service women was 4.4 percent. And by 2016, it was 4.3 percent. So they say there is a very long road ahead.

GREENE: All right. Claudia Grisales is a reporter covering Congress for the military publication Stars and Stripes. Thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.