McSally says in Senate hearing she was raped in Air Force
By COLLEEN LONG
Thursday, March 7
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, the first female Air Force fighter pilot to fly in combat, said she was sexually assaulted by a superior officer and later, when she tried to talk about it to military officials, she “felt like the system was raping me all over again.”
The Arizona Republican, a 26-year military veteran, made the disclosure at a Senate hearing on the military’s efforts to prevent sexual assaults and improve the response when they occur. Lawmakers also heard from other service members who spoke of being sexually assaulted and humiliated while serving their country.
McSally said she did not report being raped because she did not trust the system and was ashamed and confused. She said she was impressed and grateful to the survivors who came forward to help change the system. She was in the ninth class at the Air Force Academy to allow women, and she said sexual harassment and assault were prevalent. Victims mostly suffered in silence, she said.
Reading from a prepared statement on Wednesday, she spoke of her pride in the military and her service to the country and her deep confliction over suffering abuse while doing it. She referred to “perpetrators” who had sexually assaulted her, an indication that she had been attacked more than once. The Senate Armed Services Committee room was silent as she went on. Fellow senators, surprised by her statement, lauded her for coming forward.
“I’m deeply affected by that testimony,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has pushed strongly for changes.
At a break, McSally hugged others who were appearing before the committee, including a West Point graduate who detailed being raped by her commander.
Capt. Carrie Volpe, an Air Force spokeswoman, said the branch was appalled at and “deeply sorry” about what McSally had experienced.
“The criminal actions reported today by Senator McSally violate every part of what it means to be an Airman,” she said in a statement. “And we stand behind her and all victims of sexual assault. We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks.”
In an interview with “CBS This Morning,” broadcast on Thursday, McSally said she considered the prevalence of sexual assault and abuse in the military to be a national security threat. But she said people shouldn’t think the problem comes from having women in the military.
“Think about it — if you have a predator, if you have a rapist who is serving in uniform, you don’t deal with it by keeping a woman out of their unit,” she said. “Because that predator is going to go assault someone else.”
McSally told CBS it was difficult to disclose her experience in a public hearing.
“It brings back the very real memories and the realities of it all,” she said, “but I’m glad I did.”
In her remarks at the Senate hearing, McSally did not go into much detail. She did not say whether her assaults happened at the academy or during active duty. She didn’t name any names. She focused on the need for accountability at the commander level and down and the improvements she’s already seen in the system.
McSally watched for years as the military grappled with how to handle sexual assaults.
“I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences was handled,” she said. “Like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me all over again.”
McSally’s revelation comes not long after Sen. Joni Ernst , R-Iowa, detailed her own abuse and assault and at a time of increased awareness of harassment and assault in the armed forces and with the larger #MeToo movement that roiled Hollywood and major corporations.
Reports of sexual assaults across the military jumped nearly 10 percent in 2017, a year that also saw an online nude-photo sharing scandal rock the Defense Department. Reporting for 2018 is not yet available. Reports of sexual assaults also were up at the military academies, most at West Point.
McSally said she shares in the disgust of the failures of the military system and many commanders who haven’t addressed sexual misconduct. She said the public must demand that higher-ranking officials be part of the solution, setting the tone for their officers.
Defense officials have argued that an increase in reported assaults reflects a greater willingness to report attacks, rather than indicating assaults are rising. Sexual assaults are a highly underreported crime, both in the military and across society. Greater reporting, they argue, shows there is more confidence in the reporting system and greater comfort with the support for victims.
The senator told The Wall Street Journal last year that she had been sexually abused as a teenager by her high school track coach. She said the coach took advantage of her through “emotional manipulation” because her father had died. He denied the allegations.
McSally served in the Air Force from 1988 until 2010 and rose to the rank of colonel before entering politics. She deployed six times to the Middle East and Afghanistan, flying 325 combat hours and earning a Bronze Star and six air medals. She was the first woman to command a fighter squadron.
McSally, who had worked as a national security aide for Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., was elected to the House in 2014 and served two terms.
She was appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey, R-Ariz., in December to replace the late GOP Sen. John McCain after she narrowly lost last year’s race for Arizona’s other Senate seat to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.
McSally had been critical of Donald Trump in 2016 but embraced a tough stance on immigration and praised the president during last year’s midterm election.
She will serve until 2020, when voters will elect someone to finish the final two years of McCain’s term.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
Once captives of Boko Haram, these students are finding new meaning in their lives in Pennsylvania
March 7, 2019
Author: Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob, Visiting International Scholar in International Studies & Political Science, Dickinson College
Disclosure statement: Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Of all the challenges faced by people who’ve been displaced, perhaps none is more important than to find new meaning in their lives. And so it is with the four young women who are students in a college prep class that I teach at Dickinson College.
All four students were among the more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014. The kidnapping triggered international outrage and prompted the worldwide #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
As we approach the five-year anniversary of the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls – many of whom are still being held captive – it is worth taking a look at what the world has done to help those who have survived the ordeal. The Nigerian government has secured the release of less than half of the kidnapped schoolgirls, with at least 100 still being held captive.
The class I teach at Dickinson offers a small glimpse into the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls’ lives. It is an outcome that their captors in Boko Haram – a terrorist group whose name means “Western education is forbidden” – never wanted to imagine.
Over the past year or so, the four students I teach have worked hard to achieve their dream of obtaining a high school equivalency diploma so they can have a shot at college. They have attempted the GED practice test and real tests quite a few times.
Assessors said it would take about five to seven years to get them ready for college. However, something took place in February that leads me to believe it won’t take that long. But before I tell that story, a little background is in order.
While the Chibok school kidnapping is widely associated with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, fortunately, my students never had to be “brought back.” That’s because they were among the lucky ones who escaped from the insurgent group as they were being taken to the Sambisa Forest in Nigeria.
How the four young women came to be my students at a small, historic, private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania is a long and complicated story. Not all of it has been pleasant. The Wall Street Journal told much of their rough ordeal in the United States in 2018.
That same year, Dickinson College president Margee Ensign was asked and agreed to welcome the young women to our campus. She had done the same a few years earlier with some of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls when she was head of the American University of Nigeria, where I also used to teach.
The students are all on full scholarship funded by the Nigerian government’s Victim Support Fund and the Murtala Mohammed Foundation.
Journey to the United States
I came to Dickinson College in the fall of 2017 as a visiting professor in international studies. I first met the four former Chibok schoolgirls in April 2018, when Dickinson launched the College Bridge program in which they are now enrolled.
Through the program, the young women take a college prep class with me that focuses on critical and analytical thinking skills. They also take math, English, science, social studies and GED preparatory classes.
A global mission, challenging work
In many ways, the bridge program at Dickinson is in line with UNESCO’s new #RightToEducation campaign that is meant to expand access to higher education for refugees. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, among the world’s 16.1 million refugees, only 1 percent of college-aged refugees attend university, compared to 34 percent of all college-aged youth globally.
Released abduction victims, schoolgirls from the Government Girls Science and Technical College Dapchi, shown after a meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, at the presidential palace in Abuja, Nigeria. Azeez Akunleyan/AP
The work of preparing students with refugee backgrounds for college is far from easy. Aside from adjusting to a new culture and environment, sometimes a new language and a different method of learning, displaced persons struggle to find new meanings in their displacement. When education becomes their main pursuit, it must necessarily provide those new meanings.
For a student named Patience, new meaning has been found in her quest to become a schoolteacher or counselor. Patience has taken a significant step toward that goal. It came to light when she showed up over an hour late to my class one day in February.
“What happened today?” I asked when she walked in, trying to keep my voice and expression from revealing my disappointment.
“I went to take my GED Math this morning. I told you,” she said.
I’m not sure how I forgot that she was going to take the GED Math, but I did. Had I remembered, I would have sent her one of my motivational texts to get her inspired. This was her third attempt on the GED.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“It went well,” she answered, her voice flat, face emotionless.
“So …” I stammered, “did you pass?”
“Yes, I did,” she said, and then told me her score. The whole class erupted in cheers and claps. I was so excited, I rushed and hugged her without thinking. The other students joined. It was one of the most rewarding moments in my decade of teaching. A few weeks later, Patience passed her GED Science exam as well.
Patience is the first among the four women to pass a GED test. In order to appreciate what a big deal this is, consider where these young women have come from.
Beyond having had a tumultuous life, the students come from an unimaginably poor educational background. The Government Girls Secondary School they attended in Chibok, Borno state, is in a very remote part of Nigeria. You normally wouldn’t have good teachers in such remote areas. But with the Boko Haram insurgency that has plagued the region for the past decade, the situation is far worse. The insurgency has prompted most of the good teachers to leave. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 611 teachers have been deliberately killed by the insurgents since 2009, forcing a further 19,000 teachers to flee. The students have told me that their school at Chibok did not have qualified science, math or language teachers. Their science labs had no equipment.
The Borno state Ministry of Education and many other states in northern Nigeria generally do not prioritize education for girls due to religion and culture, which both support early marriage. In Borno state, the attendance rate for female secondary school students is 29 percent, compared with a national average of 53 percent. So this is a huge achievement for Patience and the other women in their journey toward college. When they eventually get into college, I believe it will inspire thousands of other young girls from that region of the world.
For her part, Patience hopes to inspire girls worldwide.
I know this because in early 2019, I worked with Patience and her fellow students on listening and comprehension skills. For one exercise, I had them watch and then write their opinion about this inspiring talk by Mary Maker, a former South Sudanese refugee who is now a teacher at a school in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, on the power of education for women from crises societies.
Patience and the others could relate very easily with the speech and with the speaker. It spoke to their past and their present, their hopes and aspirations. The proof is that in her essay about the video, Patience wrote that she wants to have a voice like Mary Maker’s – and to speak for women who cannot speak for themselves.
Long before #MeToo, women in many parts of the world organized successful campaigns against sexual violence
March 7, 2019
Author: Alka Kurian, Senior Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington, Bothell
Disclosure statement: Alka Kurian is affiliated with: University of Washington Bothell Tasveer, a Seattle-based South Asian film, literature and arts non-profit
Just two months after allegations of sexual abuse against Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein came to light in a 2017 New York Times article, women in at least 85 countries began using the the hashtag #MeToo, to speak against sexual harassment.
In China, sexual misconduct accusations led to the firing of a professor at a top university and the resignation of a high-profile Buddhist monk. In Egypt, it was a highly regarded leader of the Arab Spring who was forced to resign. And in India, sexual misconduct accusations caused a major uproar in Bollywood and forced the resignation of a leading politician and minister.
While the success of #MeToo testifies to the power of social media in putting the spotlight on the culture of misogyny across the world, as a scholar who studies feminism, I know it’s not the first movement of its kind.
Women in countries such as India, Pakistan and others have long organized successful campaigns against sexual harassment.
Campaigns in India
In 2009 Indian women organized a successful campaign called #PinkChaddi, or “pink underwear,” against the culture of moral policing by Sriram Sene, a right-wing group that attacked young women in bars and young unmarried couples in public spaces on Valentine’s day.
Through a Facebook campaign, Nisha Susan, an employee of India’s leading investigative political magazine Tehelka invited women to send this right-wing group pink underwear on Valentine’s Day. The campaign caught women’s attention across the country and resulted in more than 2,000 women sending pink underwear to the group.
In another campaign called #PinjraTod: Break the Locks, female students in Delhi came together in 2015 to protest sexist curfew rules in university halls. The students said the rules were used to stifle the freedom of women as the only way to deal with the culture of sexual violence.
At the time, the campaign forced university authorities to relax some of the rules. And today, it has grown into a larger movement across India’s major cities for bringing in meaningful policies against sexual harassment.
The biggest campaign came in 2012, in the aftermath of the gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh on the streets of Delhi. The brutal rape triggered an unprecedented nationwide outcry, mostly by middle-class India. The protests forced the government to change its law against rape. They also led to enhanced penalties for offenders and criminalization of stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks on women.
Central to this protest was the role played by social media in urban India where women had long been frustrated by corruption and rising crimes. Since early 2000s, young tech-savvy millennial women had been agitating online against the culture of sexual violence in the country. The 2012 incident became a flashpoint.
While mainstream media coverage of the rape intensified the movement, it was digital activism that moved people from online protests to street demonstrations. Text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter hashtags such as #Nirbhaya and #StopThisShame were used to express a collective rage and mobilize people.
Campaigns in Pakistan
Similarly, in neighboring Pakistan, women have been fighting to stop sexual harassment. The 2009 anti-sexual harassment bill drafted by AASHA, the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment is one of the earliest such examples.
Another such campaign #GirlsAtDhaba, launched in 2015 by a group of feminists, called on women to be more visible in public spaces. It invited Pakistani women to post their pictures having tea at roadside tea stalls.
The #GirlsAtDhaba campaign was inspired by the #WhyLoiter campaign in India, that advocates for women’s right to be on the streets of India for pleasure. Both these movements challenged the domination of public spaces by men, which often results in women’s increased sexual harassment.
Similar digital campaigns against sexual harassment took place in many other emerging economies before #MeToo.
In Latin America, women led powerful movements such as #MeuAmigoSecreto and #MeoQueridoProfessor against everyday sexism at home and in public places, including universities.
In China, a 25-year-old woman Li Maizi was arrested in 2015 for distributing pamphlets on sexual harassment in urban public transport, prompting a global social media outcry.
In the Middle East, since the 2011 Arab Spring, women have used personal blogs to protest the social and political policing of gender. Examples include Tunisian Amina Shoui’s uploading of pictures of her topless body inscribed by “We Don’t Need Your Di-mocracy.” She deliberately parsed the word democracy to protest against the “mock” democracy and also to indicate that she was prepared to “die.”
The issues that remain
Despite the success of many of these campaigns, there are many complex issues that need to be addressed.
For example, media reports from India show that women from the lower castes continue to face sexual assault, often violent, for daring to refuse sexual advances of upper-caste men.
In Pakistan, women have faced serious backlash over public accusations of sexual harassment. A leading pop star Meena Shafi and the two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid faced abusive online trolling when they tweeted about sexual harassment.
A stigma around rape and a sexist legal system often discourages most women in Pakistan from calling out their sexual abusers.
Recognizing global campaigns
In projecting #MeToo as a global phenomenon, the international media often implies that it was the West that helped mobilize women around sexual violence and gave it a name.
This belief reinforces what Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole has referred to, in a different context, as the “white-savior industrial complex” – a colonial mindset that does not acknowledge to this day the role played by Western dominance in reinforcing women’s subordination in the non-Western world.
Further, it obscures a large number of anti-sexism movements that have long been led by women in different parts of the world.
As Ghanaian writer and women’s rights activist Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah says: Rather than a movement, #MeToo is only a moment – albeit an important one – which has a long way to go.