WASHINGTON, March 6 (Xinhua) -- A U.S. Republican Senator on Wednesday said she was raped while serving in the Air Force, underscoring a prevalent culture of sexual assaults in the U.S. military.

"I am also a military sexual assault survivor," Senator Martha McSally said during a Senate armed services subcommittee hearing on prevention of and response to sexual assault in the military. "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."

The senator from Arizona served in the U.S. Air Force from 1988 to 2010, before she retired as a colonel. She did not reveal the perpetrator or timing of the incident, but said she kept quiet about the ordeal for many years.

"Like many victims, I felt the system was raping me all over again," said McSally, who also said last year that she was sexually abused by a sports coach during her senior year in high school.

The U.S. Air Force issued a statement saying it was "appalled" by McSally's allegations and that it was "deeply sorry."

"The criminal actions reported today by Senator McSally violate every part of what it means to be an Airman. We are appalled and deeply sorry for what Senator McSally experienced and we stand behind her and all victims of sexual assault," it said.

McSally's charge highlighted a prevalent culture of sexual abuse in the U.S. military.

A Pentagon report released on Jan. 31 found that 50 percent of the 3,200 female students attending the three major U.S. military service academies said they have experienced sexual harassment while 16 percent said they have experienced unwanted sexual contact. The numbers for the 9,700 male students are 16 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Statistics indicated that sexual assault and harassment have become worse in all three military academies. Most alarming were the numbers for the U.S. Military Academy, where 16.5 percent of female cadets reported unwanted sexual contact, representing a jump for the number of 2016. The rate more than doubled for male cadets from the previous two years, reaching 3.4 percent.

McSally, 52, was appointed to the seat vacated by the late U.S. Senator John McCain. McSally was known as "the first female U.S. fighter pilot to fly in combat and the first woman to command a fighter squadron."