March 26, 2018
One of the most tragic aspects of many stories involving the sexual abuse of children is the length of time it often takes to bring the facts to light and the perpetrators to justice. But even worse than a system slow to respond to allegations of abuse is a system where cases can be buried with no action at all, with little to no oversight from the courts or child protective agencies.
This legal limbo is the reality facing hundreds of children who are victims of sexual assault cases under the jurisdiction of the United States Armed Forces. According to a chilling new investigation by the Associated Press, the problem is far more serious than anyone could have previously imagined.
A Systemic Problem
One of the major takeaways of the AP investigation, which utilized dozens of interviews and records from all four branches of the military as well as the school system, was the stunning failure to protect children from sexual abuse committed by other children. This neglect often occurs on military bases, where the children of military personnel are abused by the children of their parents’ fellow soldiers and sailors.
Reports of assaults and rapes among kids on military bases have been found to lie dormant on the desks of prosecutors, even if the attacker gives a full confession. Despite clear legal requirements that the cases be pursued, they are often quietly buried by investigators with no follow-up, and certainly no justice.
For their part, the Pentagon has demonstrated virtually zero interest in acknowledging these cases, let alone properly investigating them. The Associated Press investigators found nearly 600 unreported sex assault cases on U.S. military bases over the past decade. Not only do the perpetrators escape responsibility for their actions, but victims routinely fail to receive the counseling and services they need to cope with the aftermath of a sexual assault. The scope of the systemic failure is so vast that it is almost impossible for objective third parties to comprehend.
How Does This Happen?
One of the most fundamental problems when it comes to dealing with cases of sexual assault by and against civilians living on U.S. military installations abroad stems from a lack of resources. Because the children of military personnel are subject to U.S. law, not the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the U.S. Justice Department is not set up to logistically handle these claims.
But even among the cases that are investigated, the Associated Press found that federal prosecutors only pursued about one out of every seven juvenile sex offense cases they were presented with for possible prosecution. And lest anyone think the unprosecuted cases consisted of relatively low-level or unsubstantiated offenses, the facts clearly demonstrate otherwise.
Failures Both Home and Abroad
Unprosecuted cases from military installations in Japan, Germany, and Camp Lejune in North Carolina, describe graphic accusations of rape and sexual assault, with victims ranging in age from seventeen years old all the way down to toddlers. In some cases the offenses were swept under the rug and ignored; in other, the perpetrator is moved to another installation with no formal action taken. In neither instance does the abuser receive any therapy or psychological treatment designed to reduce recidivism.
Even when military child abuse specialists are aware of cases, they are often forbidden to interfere. Their scope of influence is limited to situations where the abuser is a parent or guardian of a minor victim, and they have no power to intervene when the perpetrator is another child on base.
The Pentagon school system handles the education of over 71,000 children of U.S. military personnel at home and abroad. The lack of available statistics on sexual assault of minors is a glaring omission, especially given the Pentagon’s customary adherence to data-driven policies.
What Happens Now?
Although the Office of the Secretary of Defense described child-on-child sexual assault as “an emerging issue” that merited further review, the facts suggest otherwise. Associated Press researchers found evidence that military lawyers have been warning about a juvenile justice black hole for over four decades, going all the way back to the 1970’s.
Despite these disturbing revelations, the likelihood of substantive change seems limited at best. The military is rarely cited as an example of rapid response to systemic problems, and the sensitive nature of child sexual assault undoubtedly has a chilling effect on many of those who would be exposed to criticism for ignoring the cases.
Contact a Lawyer
The disturbing facts exposed by this Associated Press investigation are a harsh reminder that sexual assault can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Do not ever assume that reports are being properly addressed without knowing for sure.
If any of your loved ones are facing a difficult time in reporting prior or current sexual abuse, seek legal help without delay. Firms such as The Cifarelli Law Firm have a team of professionals who can help you throughout the journey and can fight to protect you and your loved ones.