Former senator Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said she was sexually assaulted during a run alongside the Missouri River, near the border of Iowa and Nebraska.
In a video shared on social media on Wednesday afternoon, McSally — who has, in the past, openly spoken about being raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force — said she was in Omaha on Wednesday to speak about “courage and heart and how to be a brave heart.”
“I just had it put to the test,” McSally said.
The former senator — who noted she was still “in an adrenaline state” while recording the video — said a man came up behind her during her run and engulfed her in a bear hug before molesting her and following her until she fought him off.
“I then chased him down, I said a lot of swear words,” she said. “In this moment, I was in a fight, flight or freeze, and I chose to fight.”
McSally, a former fighter pilot who served in the Air Force for 26 years, said she ran after her attacker, threw her water bottle at him and chased him into the brush where he hid as she called 911. The former senator said she waited for police to arrive, but authorities weren’t able to find the perpetrator.
“In this moment, I just want to share that I chose to fight and I’m okay now, in part because of that,” she said. “It could have been much worse. I still have a lot to process, and I will do that in time.”
McSally said she’s committed to ensuring that she will “process this through in a very healthy way — which is what I teach other people to do as well.”
The experience, she said, has tapped “into a nerve of other sexual abuse and assault that I’ve been through in the past, which I’ve healed from as much as I feel can be done.”
“But in this case,” she said, “I felt like I took my power back. He tried to take power from me, but I turned it on him and he was running from me instead of the other way around.”
McSally emphasized that she was not “giving anyone advice on how to respond in situations like this,” noting that she sprung into action almost automatically.
Officials at the Pottawattamie County, Council Bluffs County and Mills County, Iowa, Sheriff’s Offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the alleged assault. When reached for comment, a former spokeswoman for McSally said the former senator pointed to the social media post.
While serving in the Senate in 2019, McSally revealed during a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on preventing sexual assault in the military that she was raped by a superior officer. McSally, the country’s first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, said that she didn’t report her assault then because she didn’t trust the system. She said then that she blamed herself, was “ashamed and confused,” and felt powerless about what happened to her.
“The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways,” she said. “In one case, I was preyed upon and raped by a superior officer.”
McSally has been open about her experiences with sexual assault and advocated for changing the way the U.S. military handles sexual assault. While running for Senate in 2018, McSally revealed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that she had been pressured by her high school athletic coach into having sex with him when she was 17.
McSally, who no longer works in politics, was appointed to the Senate in December 2018 to the seat once held by John McCain (R-Ariz.). She previously represented Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House for four years.