The Arizona congresswoman now running for Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) seat said she was pressured by her high school athletic coach into having sex with him when she was 17, an experience she said led her to leave the East Coast and enter the Air Force, where she became the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat.
Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) said during an interview with the Wall Street Journal that she was sexually abused by her track coach while attending St. Mary Academy-Bay View in Riverside, R.I. Reporting the allegations on Monday, the Journal identified the coach as Jack Dwyer and said he denied McSally’s claims.
The congresswoman had never spoken publicly about what she says happened.
“Even though he didn’t physically force me, it certainly was an emotional manipulation,” McSally told the Journal, adding that she was “freaking out” at the time that she would become pregnant by the decades-older coach.
McSally’s congressional office referred questions to her campaign.
After The Washington Post sought comment from Dwyer through an online profile, he emailed saying he “cannot comment on the matter because [it] is now in the hands of my lawyers.” Dwyer called McSally “nuts” and “the most scheming woman I ever met” when reached by the Journal.
St. Mary Academy-Bay View said it was “saddened” by McSally’s allegations in a statement released Tuesday.
“We are committed to confronting issues of misconduct and abuse, irrespective of when the incident occurred. Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” the statement read.
McSally announced her candidacy for Senate in January. She is Republican leaders’ preferred successor for Flake, who is retiring.
“It took a while for me to come to a place where I understood what the hell I had been through,” she 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.”
Sexual harassment and misconduct are major topics of discussion on Capitol Hill, which continues to grapple with how to adjudicate complaints of abusive behavior in lawmakers’ offices. McSally is one of a handful of female members to discuss her own alleged experience with abuse.
This post has been updated.