A shocking new report proves that military children are the victims of sex abuse hundreds of times a year — and the Pentagon may be more interested in sweeping the problem under the rug than stopping it.
The hundreds of annual cases were revealed in a Defense Department report obtained exclusively by the Associated Press. The abuse is committed most often by male enlisted troops, according to the data, followed by family members.
With more than 1 million military dependents, the number of cases appears statistically small. But for a profession that prides itself on honor and discipline, any episodes of abuse cast a pall.
And it’s clear that the public may not be getting the full picture, as the report released by the Defense Department was less than forthcoming.
The ages of the offenders and victims, the locations of the incidents and the branch of service that received the report of sexual abuse were all omitted.
It’s also unclear how many of the incidents ever resulted in legal action. The cases represent substantiated occurrences of child sexual abuse reported to the Defense Department’s Family Advocacy Program, but there was no information on follow-up legal proceedings.
An AP investigation published in November found more inmates are in military prisons for child sex crimes than for any other offense. But the military’s opaque justice system keeps the public from knowing the full extent of their crimes or how much time they spend behind bars.
Responding to AP’s findings, three Democratic senators have urged Defense Secretary Ash Carter to lift what they called the military justice system’s “cloak of secrecy” and make records from sex-crimes trials readily accessible.
The senators also raised another concern. Child sex-assault cases are not included in the Defense Department’s annual report to Congress on sexual assaults, which focuses primarily on adult-on-adult incidents, they said. The senators — Barbara Boxer of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii — told Carter in a Dec. 8 letter they are concerned the department may be underestimating how many sexual assaults are occurring in the military.
There were at least 1,584 substantiated cases of military dependents being sexually abused between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, according to the data. Enlisted service members sexually abused children in 840 cases. Family members of the victims accounted for the second largest category with 332 cases.
Most of the enlisted offenders were males whose ranks ranged between E-4 and E-6. In the Marine Corps and Army, for example, those troops are corporals, sergeants and staff sergeants. Officers were involved in 49 of the cases. The victims were overwhelmingly female.
Duplications in the data indicate that as many as 160 additional cases of sexual abuse could have occurred during the 2010 to 2014 period, involving a child who was victimized multiple times or a repeat abuser. The figures also account only for cases involving military dependents, which are the only child victims the department tracks.