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Investigation Ordered: Pentagon Ignores Childhood Sexual Assault on Bases

by Wendy Innes, published

The country’s military bases are dead zones of justice for child-on-child sexual assaults, according to the findings of a lengthy investigation conducted by the Associated Press. The findings of the investigation, released in March, paint a bleak picture for the children of military families who are sexually assaulted by the children of other military families.

The problem of sexual assault within its ranks has long been a well-known black eye for the military. But more than a decade after the military’s sexual assault problem came to light, the military still overlooks cases in which children are sexually assaulted by other minors on military bases.

Reports, the vast majority of which are found to be credible, are shelved, despite mandates that they be pursued, even when investigators have a confession. Because of this, there is no justice for victims and no rehabilitation for offenders, as there would be in the civilian world. Families are often just transferred on to new duty stations and all is forgotten.

According to the AP report, research suggests that only 5 percent of children who are arrested and rehabilitated for sexual assault will re-offend, meaning that by ignoring the problem, authorities are missing a key opportunity to stop something from becoming a larger problem later.

The AP report says that the DOD says it “takes seriously any incident impacting the well-being of our service members and their families.” The Pentagon pledged to take 'appropriate actions' to help juveniles involved in sex assaults. It said it was “not aware of any juvenile sex offender treatment specialists” working in the military or its school system.

The Defense Department says it does not know the extent of the problem occurring on its bases, as it doesn’t analyze information received regarding sexual assault among children on its bases. However, the DOD was not cooperative with the AP investigation forcing multiple Freedom of Information Act requests when information was repeatedly withheld.

The Defense Department called it “an emerging issue,” but the AP found military lawyers warning of the problem as far back as the 1970s

Over the last 10 years, the AP found nearly 600 cases of sexual assault committed by children. This information had to be compiled through haphazard record keeping and interviews with the four main military branches as well as the Department of Defense Education Activity, which runs schools on military bases around the world.

Part of the problem in pursuing these cases, the AP found, was jurisdiction. On military bases, the Defense Department and Justice Department has authority. But when it comes to crimes like these, that authority only applies to the active member.

The Justice Department is not equipped, nor does it want, to handle cases involving children, so it seldom ever does. Spouses and children are civilians, despite being military dependents, meaning that cases need to be pursued by civilian authorities, something called retrocession. Justice Department prosecutors are supposed to hand off these cases to local prosecutors, but this rarely happens.

If cases are transferred to local authorities, often they are not pursued because of a lack of money within the local government. In the case of larger bases just pursing a two or three cases could wipe out the rehabilitation budget for the entire year.

As with the case of military sexual assault, if prosecutors do not pursue the case, base commanders can get involved and do things like ban an offender from base pending completion of a therapy program or transfer the family to a new duty station. But the base commander is not required to get involved or take any action at all.

Trying to keep the lid on the scandal as much as possible, the Pentagon is bristling against legislation that’s been introduced to close loopholes that keep these cases from being prosecuted. Multiple bills are making their way around Capital Hill, and a congressional investigation has been ordered.

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