Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., said Wednesday during a congressional hearing that she was raped while in the service.
McSally said that changes in the past three decades in the US military have improved sexual-assault reporting and prosecution, and she thanked survivors who have stepped forward and made "significant change happen".
At a break, Senator McSally hugged others who were appearing before the committee, including a West Point graduate who detailed being raped by her commander.
"I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences were handled", she said, adding that she came close to leaving the Air Force after 18 years.
McSally, who served in the Air Force until 2010 and retired with the rank of colonel, said she kept quiet about the assault for many years.
"Like many victims", McSally said, "I felt like the system was raping me all over again". McSally felt the need to come forward because she wanted to speak honestly with witnesses. McNally isn't naming the officer she says raped her. Reports of sexual assaults across the military jumped almost 10 percent in 2017 - a year that also saw an online nude-photo sharing scandal rock the Defense Department.
"Like so many women and men, I didn't trust the system at the time", she explained. "It is because of you that a light has been shined on this silent epidemic and so many improvements have been made-including more than 100 legislative actions over the last decade-on all aspects of military sexual assault".
McSally said that during her miitary career, she was "greatly privileged to prepare and then lead my unbelievable Airmen in combat, which is the apex responsibility of any warrior leader".
"I share the disgust at the failures of the military system and the many commanders who failed in their responsibilities", the senator said.
"It took many years and too many lives ruined".
Greater reporting, they argue, shows there is more confidence in the reporting system and greater comfort with the support for victims. An attorney for her former husband declined to comment at the time.
She was also the first woman to command a fighter squadron. Jon Kyl, who departed the upper chamber past year.
Last year, McSally told The Wall Street Journal that her high school track coach sexually abused her when she was 17 years old, soon after her father passed away. A special election will be held in 2020 to fill the remaining two years of McCain's six-year term.