Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), the first American woman to fly in combat, has gone public with a charge that she was sexually abused by an adult while in high school.
In a Wall Street Journal interview, McSally alleges that her high-school track coach pressured her into having sex with him when she was 17 years old. The congresswoman said she wasn’t physically forced to comply, but accused the coach of using “emotional manipulation” and employing psychological tactics to keep her silent.
McSally, 52, said the alleged abuse occurred during her senior year an all-girls Catholic school in Riverside, Rhode Island. She said she told two adults of the situation at the time, but didn’t mention the abuse to friends or family until about a decade later.
“It took a while for me to come to a place where I understood what the hell I had been through,” the two-term House member told the Journal. “At the time, I was so afraid. I now understand — like many girls and boys who are abused by people in authority over them — there’s a lot of fear and manipulation and shame.”
The school, St. Mary Academy-Bay View, told HuffPost in a statement that it is committed to the “empowerment, safety, and well-being of our students,” past and present.
“We are saddened by these allegations, and we are committed to confronting issues of misconduct and abuse, irrespective of when the incident occurred,” the school said. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students.”
One of the women McSally confided in told the Journal that she informed the school principal of the matter and that the coach, Jack Dwyer, was fired.
Dwyer denied the abuse allegations and told the Journal that he resigned to pursue another job.
“I believe she’s nuts,” Dwyer said. “That girl is the most scheming woman I ever met.”
McSally announced in January that she would be running to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who is not seeking re-election this year.
The Air Force veteran has previously spoken out against sexual harassment in the military, something she said she experienced firsthand. McSally also co-sponsored a House resolution last year aimed at cracking down on sexual harassment in the chamber.
“Sexual harassment is intolerable in our military, it is intolerable in our schools, it is intolerable in private sector workplaces, and it should be intolerable in Congress,” McSally said in a press release at the time. “Members of Congress should never be above the law.”
The resolution passed.
However, McSally has been criticized in the past for refusing to comment on alleged sexual abuse by GOP politicians, including Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore whose bid for office floundered amid accusations that decades ago he sexually harassed minors.
McSally also chose not to participate when a number of Democratic lawmakers decided to wear black to Trump’s State of the Union address this year in solidarity with the #MeToo movement. She instead wore red, white and blue with other GOP congresswomen to show support for the military.
This story has been updated with a statement from St. Mary Academy-Bay View.