Military still struggles to handle kid-on-kid sex assaults

According to a report released on Wednesday, the Department of Defense is struggling to change how it handles the abuse of military kids, including cases involving sexual assault by other children.

The U.S. Department of Defense is struggling to change how it handles the abuse of military kids, including cases involving sexual assault by other children, according to a report commissioned by Congress.

The military has been slow to implement reforms that lawmakers mandated more than a year ago, said the report released Wednesday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The Pentagon still doesn’t know the extent of child-on-child sexual assaults, in part because some officials dismiss incidents without reporting them and the Pentagon has no one place to track all cases that have been logged.

Worldwide, more than 1.2 million school-age children live with military families, many on large bases that include schools, recreation centers, playgrounds and other trappings of civilian life.

While the report credited the Pentagon and some armed services for making policy changes on paper, it concluded how ground-level change was lagging.

“I’d say their intentions are good. They’re starting to make progress,” said Brenda Farrell, the report’s primary author. “But it has a long way to go in order to get it to the point where they have oversight in place to be able to say that things are actually improving or that they’ve got this particular area under control.”

Lawmakers tasked Congress’ watchdog agency with doing its review after an Associated Press investigation detailed how justice failed both victims and offenders in child-on-child sexual assaults on bases.

AP’s reporting showed how the Pentagon and Department of Justice were failing both victims and offenders. Cases that investigators made often died on the desks of prosecutors, even when an attacker confessed. Victims were denied help because regulations granted counseling only if the attacker was an adult.

In response, Congress passed legislation that required a series of reforms, starting in fall 2018. Wednesday’s report amounted to a progress check.

The report recommended 23 changes, which the GAO’s Farrell said was a high number. In responses included in the report, the Defense Department generally agreed with the suggestions.

“If the leadership sends the message this is a high priority, then everyone else will start to fall in line,” Farrell said.

So far, the changes related to child-on-child sexual assault have focused on revising written policies for how to handle and track reports. The military’s equivalent of social services, the Family Advocacy Program, published new guidelines as did the Army and the Pentagon-run school system known as the Department of Defense Education Activity, know as DoDEA.

AP’s investigation documented nearly 700 sex assault reports on U.S. bases worldwide over 10 years, a certain undercount because the Pentagon did not systemically track cases.

The GAO also found that the Defense Department didn’t know the full scope of the problem because data kept by its various branches was incomplete — and a centralized tracking system is a long way from reality.

The Defense Department “has not yet identified all information requirements, developed a plan for how it will use the data it collects, or established a schedule for development and implementation,” GAO said of a tracking database.

The report also found that some complaints weren’t getting classified as abuse by staff at military bases. That staff has “considerable discretion” in deciding whether complaints are investigated or recorded in incident-tracking data.

In the Defense Department’s education system, for example, the GAO identified incidents of student misconduct, including unwanted genital contact, that base schools didn’t treat as serious and report to the upper administration.

“As a result, systemic issues within a particular school or district may never be reported to DoDEA’s leadership,” said the report, “and any additional resources that a school or district needs to prevent future incidents may not be identified.”

The report also cited a lack of pediatric sexual assault forensic examiners to help build cases based on physical evidence. The report said that, across the military, there are only 11 such specialists.

———

If you have a tip, comment or story to share about child-on-child sexual assault on U.S. military bases, please email: schoolhousesexassault@ap.org . See AP’s entire package of stories here: https://www.apnews.com/tag/HiddenVictims

———

Contact the reporters on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman or https://twitter.com/ReeseDunklin

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) comment

Russian

The military can’t get a handle on adult on adult sexual assault

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, insights and experiences, not personal attacks. Ad hominem criticisms are not allowed. Focus on ideas instead.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
No trolls. Off-topic comments and comments that bait others are not allowed.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
Say it once. No repeat or repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.