Spotlight On Military Sexual Assault After Arizona Sen. Martha McSally Comes Forward

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2019 - 10:32am
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2019 - 2:42pm
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Martha McSally.

MARK BRODIE: We start this hour with a note that this next subject may not be appropriate for younger listeners. During a congressional hearing yesterday, Arizona Senator Martha McSally revealed she had been raped by a superior officer during her time serving in the military. McSally told other survivors in the room their strength inspired her.

MARTHA MCSALLY: Like you, 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. I blamed myself. I was ashamed and confused. I thought I was strong, but felt powerless. The perpetrators abused their position of power in profound ways, and in one case, I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: McSally said at one point, she considered leaving the military over her despair at what happened. Her testimony came during a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on sexual assaults in the military. Brian Clubb is the military and veterans advocate director for the Battered Women's Justice Project and joins us for a few minutes this morning. Brian, good morning.

BRIAN CLUBB: Thank you for having me.

GOLDSTEIN: So let's explore this a bit. So Senator McSally, a very high-profile individual talking about this important situation — how much does this impact the discussion of the issue? How much does it — does it put the spotlight on it even more?

CLUBB: Definitely. There was a subcommittee hearing yesterday, in which she and other senators and individuals from Department of Defense, as well as survivors, spoke. But on the national level and there in Arizona, I doubt we'd be talking about this today but for the fact that Senator McSally came forward with some of her story. So I think it's powerful for victims, survivors, out there, those that have and haven't come forward, as well as to raise this issue back in the forefront.

BRODIE: Brian, do you find that when somebody high-profile like Senator McSally talks about her experience, you mentioned that it sort of gives inspiration and she mentioned that she hopes it gives inspiration to other survivors to come forward with their stories. Does it do that, and does it also maybe move the needle on policy changes in the military?

CLUBB: Well I think it definitely does, you know, raise the profile of being in the position that she's in. To my knowledge, I think she's the most well-known individual who has come forward to let individuals know that she's a survivor of sexual assault in the military. I think we've seen that with the #MeToo movement, with the number of celebrities that have come forward, the Harvey Weinstein case, as well as others, and how that has, I think, helps or encouraged other victim, survivors, to come forward who maybe wouldn't, if it wasn't for the fact that someone who is well-known has done that. Regarding policy, there have been a lot of changes over the time of the last couple of decades in the military's response to sexual assault. Some occurred while the senator was on active duty, some since she left. She wasn't specific as to when this had happened to her, but I got the feeling that what she was alluding to was that it was much later in a career, where she did let some individuals know about it. But during the last couple of decades, the armed forces created a Sexual Assault Prevention Response program. All the services have it. It includes victim advocates and coordinators to take reports, a restricted reporting system that allows victims to come forward with a level of confidentiality that doesn't automatically trigger an investigation in the military. And most recently, the creation of attorneys, specific judge advocates within the military services that represent the rights of victims and represent victims in military justice proceedings.

GOLDSTEIN: And Brian, finally, sometimes in a lot of situations, in these horrible situations like this, awareness, education, are vitally important, not that you should have to tell someone not to behave this way, but is raising awareness helping it become more possible for victims to come forward and feel at least a little bit more confident about that?

CLUBB: I think definitely. I hope that's the case. The Department of Defense points to the fact that over the years, the reporting has increased, and there's debate as to whether that means there is more sexual assault going on than there was previously, or that victims just are more comfortable than they were before, due to many of the changes that have happened within the military. But, you know, we still have a ways to go. The goal is zero sexual assaults in the military. Will we ever get to that? Probably not. But, you know, this is bringing, you know, bringing up the discussion on those issues and some contentious issues that are in play right now between what Senator McSally mentioned yesterday, having to do with taking prosecutorial authority away from commanding officers and what some others in Congress and outside of Congress are pushing for.

BRODIE: Alright, that's Brian Clubb, military and veterans advocate director for the Battered Women's Justice Project. Brian, thanks a lot.

CLUBB: Thank you.

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