US defense officials ignored child sexual assault incidents on military bases: Report

WASHINGTON: US military leaders have downplayed child sexual assault incidents on military bases, not cooperated with civilian law enforcement and failed to offer support services to victims until it was late, a Pentagon watchdog says.

For the second time this year, an independent federal review, conducted by the US Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General, has blamed Pentagon authorities for how they have responded to cases in which children on military bases sexually assault each other, AP reported Friday.

Similar to a February assessment by the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon’s watchdog report – released on Wednesday — stated that authorities minimized such incidents “at nearly every stage,” according to an AP investigation of the matter, which noted that consequently cases were rarely referred to civilian courts that can provide justice both for victims and offenders.

“Civilian legal authorities and installation commanders generally did not hold juvenile offenders accountable,” the inspector general’s report said as quoted in the report.

According to the report, more than 1 million school-age children live in military families—many on US bases “where kids and teens sometimes sexually assault their peers,” further pointing out that such incidents “were typically lost in a legal and bureaucratic netherworld, where authorities failed to aid victims and offenders rarely faced consequences beyond barring them from base.”

The Pentagon, the report noted, “didn’t know the scope of a problem it did little to track.”

The inspector general’s office identified 600 misconduct cases between 2015 and 2017 that met the Pentagon school system’s criteria for a “serious incident” report, further emphasizing: “Yet campus administrators failed to submit reports on 522 cases to headquarters.”

Administrators were even less likely to tell law enforcement or base commanders, who weren’t notified in 593 of the 600 cases, added the watchdog.

Unlike AP’s investigation, those figures included incidents beyond sexual assault. In one unreported case, a student threatened a child by saying, “I’ll bring a knife to school tomorrow and cut off your head.”

A top administrator for the Department of Defense Education Activity, known as DoDEA, told the inspector general’s office that principals had “professional discretion” to decide what to report. School staff were quoted as saying policies “did not contain sufficient detail” to know when to do so, while others said “they were not aware” of the requirements.

Many other assaults, the report underlined, “happened outside school grounds,” and in those investigations, “base law enforcement authorities did not reliably tell their civilian counterparts, who have legal jurisdiction over civilian family members on bases.”

In half of the 126 criminal investigations the report sampled, military law enforcement authorities apparently failed to notify the FBI or US Department of Justice, as they are required to do under military regulations. The reason criminal investigators and military lawyers — called judge advocates — gave for not reporting: The FBI and DOJ “generally did not provide them investigative or prosecutorial assistance.”

AP’s investigation further found that civilian prosecutors rarely accepted cases, even involving teenagers accused of rape.

“It is clear from this report that the Pentagon’s response to children suffering abuse fell far too short in many cases,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “While the DoD has committed to implementing the recommended actions, our military families deserve a clear and specific plan to ensure juvenile perpetrators face consequences.”

The inspector general’s office requested further information—as well as follow-ups from DoDEA, the Army and the Navy—by Oct. 5.

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