Those who serve their country deserve better

Martha McSally spent 26 years in the military, becoming the first female Air Force pilot to fly in combat. She went on to a successful career in politics, leading her to the U.S. Senate. Clearly, she is a strong woman.

Yet she was shaken deeply last week as she participated in a Senate hearing on the military’s efforts to deal with sexual assault. One had only to watch McSally as she talked to a panel of witnesses, also female veterans, to understand how deeply the issue affected her.

While in the Air Force, McSally too was a victim of sexual assault, she shared. The Air Force’s reaction to her trauma “felt like the system was raping me all over again,” she said.

Others testifying before the Senate committee had similar stories. Superior officers too often did not take decisive action to protect them or to punish the predators who hurt them, they said. Sometimes, it was those very higher-ranking officers who victimized them.

After the hearing, Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Carrie Volpe had this to say about McSally: “We stand behind her and all the victims of sexual assault. We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks.”

Stories of women and, rarely, men, being targets of sexual predators in the military are not new, however. They have been around for decades. In 2017, the most recent year for which information is available, reports of sexual assaults in the military were up nearly 10 percent from the previous year.

This needs to end. Those who serve our country, sometimes at great risk and sacrifice, should not have to worry that some of their enemies wear the same uniform.