Army Lacks Authority to Deal with Child-on-Child Sex Abuse: Esper

Mark Esper testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of the U.S. Army in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, November 2, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Mark Esper testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of the U.S. Army in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, November 2, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The U.S. Army's top official told Congress on Tuesday that the service does not have the authority to deal directly with the recent spate of child-on-child sexual assaults on its installations.

Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense subcommittee, Army Secretary Mark Esper said, "There is going to be no toleration of that type of activity," referring to recent reports of hundreds of cases involving dependent children being sexually assaulted by older dependent children on military bases and in Defense Department schools.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, expressed her "alarm" at the cases, citing Army Criminal Investigation Command's list of "223 juvenile cases world-wide beginning since 2007."

Eight of those cases occurred on Army installations in Alaska, she said.

Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told lawmakers that such activity is "intolerable" and "must be rooted out."

Murkowski asked Esper to describe how the Army is working to "prevent and deter these sorts of incidents, making sure that investigations are conducted with a timely manner."

Esper said it will not be an easy problem to solve.

"The challenge, as my legal folks tell me, is we do not have the authority to prosecute," he said.

"In most cases, what happens is the Army Criminal Investigation [Command] ... will immediately investigate. We will provide services for the victims. We will provide help for the family," Esper explained. "But we also refer the case, depending on the agreements, to local, state or federal authorities."

Beyond that, the Army's options are limited, he said.

"What we then have to do is hand that off to others for prosecution," Esper said. "We have some authority, but it's mainly administrative. So what we could do is bar that kid from being on post or we could move the family from the post."

He said additional authority over the cases "really reside[s] outside of the military."

"I think that is something we need to take a look at," Esper said.

Murkowski suggested the Army should focus on providing more help for the victims of such crimes.

"We are seeing numbers go up; we don't know if it's more incidents or better reporting, but the need for victim services clearly is rising," she said, adding that more resources should be given to efforts such as the Army Special Victim Counsel.

"Last year, there were 2,706 victims reported in the Army," an average of 52 victims per counselor, Murkowski said.

That exceeds the recommended caseload of no more than 25 current cases, she added.

"It would seem to me that we need to look at bringing on more that can help on the victim's side," Murkowski said.

Esper agreed.

"Yes, ma'am. I will take a look at those numbers. We do need to make sure we have adequate support, whether it is counselors or advocates," he said. "Again, there is zero tolerance for that [type of crime] in the service."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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