Preventing Child Sex Assaults: 'We Can't Do It Alone,' Officials Say

Courtesy of Health.mil
Courtesy of Health.mil

U.S. Defense Department officials said they're taking steps to address child sex assaults in the military following a news article that reported more than 1,500 such cases have occurred in recent years.

"Abuse and neglect have no place in our military services, and the Department of Defense is committed to helping provide a safe environment for all our service members, civilians and their families," Rosemary Williams, head of the DoD's military family policy office, said in a statement.

"We must continue to strengthen awareness and prevention efforts to protect the most vulnerable members of our military community, our children," she added.

Data collected by The Associated Press showed at least 1,548 substantiated cases of military dependent sexual abuse in the five-year period between fiscal 2010 and 2014. The investigation came months after the news organization reported that more inmates are in military prisons for child sex crimes than for any other offense.

Pentagon officials said they couldn't confirm the figure. Child sex assaults aren't centrally tracked across the military. Lawmakers have complained the cases aren't included in the Pentagon's annual report to Congress on the issue, which focuses primarily on adult-on-adult incidents, the AP reported.

The lack of data makes it difficult to determine whether child sex abuse is particularly prevalent in the military. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests it may occur less frequently in the ranks.

The AP figure equates to an average of about 310 child sex abuse cases in the military per year, or about 0.03 percent of the armed forces' roughly 1.15 million dependents. By comparison, the percentage of children sexually abused in U.S. society as a whole was about 0.08 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Pentagon officials said any abuse is unacceptable.

"The findings in response to the Associated Press inquiry demonstrate how critical our work is and that we can't do it alone," Williams said. "Preventing abuse is the responsibility of our entire military community, as well as civilian authorities and the communities where our military families live and work."

The Pentagon has more than 2,000 staff members in the Family Advocacy program, which manages cases of military family maltreatment, according to spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson.  In 2014, the department conducted a "comprehensive review" of the issue and in 2015 launched a team to identify gaps in military community abuse response, he said.  

One military spouse whose husband is currently serving time in a military prison for molesting her now-teenage daughter said she was pleased that he was sentenced in less than a year. The mother, who wrote about the ordeal in an article on MilitarySpouse.com, spoke to Military.com on condition of anonymity to protect her family's identity.

While not every aspect of her case went smoothly, she said she felt the prosecutors, her husband's defense team and the judge took a special interest in caring for her daughter.

"Once it was all behind me and I was able to look at it objectively, I was able to say, 'Wow the military really handled this well and efficiently,'" she told Military.com. "From start to finish, when he was sentenced, was nine months," she added. "In civilian court, it can take two to three years just get in the court room."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AmyBushatz.

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