DOD still strug­gles with kid-on-kid abuse

Study: Pen­tagon has a long way to go for a rem­edy


The De­part­ment of De­fense is strug­gling to im­prove its deal­ing with the abuse of mil­i­tary kids, in­clud­ing cases in­volv­ing sex­ual as­sault by other chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to a report com­mis­sioned by Congress.

The Pen­tagon has been slow to im­ple­ment re­forms that law­mak­ers man­dated more than a year ago, said the report re­leased Wednesday by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice.

The Pen­tagon still doesn’t know the ex­tent of child-on-child sex­ual as­saults, in part be­cause some of­fi­cials dis­miss in­ci­dents with­out re­port­ing them and the Pen­tagon has no clear­ing­house to track all cases that have been logged.

World­wide, more than 1.2 mil­lion school-age chil­dren live with mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, many on large bases that in­clude schools, recreation cen­ters, play­grounds and other trap­pings of civil­ian life.

While the report cred­ited the Pen­tagon and some armed ser­vices for mak­ing policy changes on paper, it con­cluded ground-level change was lag­ging.

“I’d say their in­ten­tions are good ... but it has a long way to go in order to get it to the point ... to say that things are ac­tu­ally im­prov­ing or that they’ve got this par­tic­u­lar area un­der con­trol,” said Brenda Far­rell, the report’s pri­mary au­thor.

Law­mak­ers tasked Congress’ watch­dog agency with do­ing its review af­ter an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­tailed how jus­tice failed both vic­tims and of­fend­ers in child-on­child sex­ual as­saults on bases. Cases that in­ves­ti­ga­tors made of­ten died on the desks of prose­cu­tors, even when an at­tacker con­fessed. Vic­tims were de­nied help be­cause reg­u­la­tions granted coun­sel­ing only if the at­tacker was an adult.

In re­sponse, Congress passed leg­is­la­tion that re­quired a series of re­forms, start­ing in fall 2018. Wednesday’s report amounted to a progress check, and it rec­om­mended 23 changes, which Far­rell said was a lot. In re­sponses in­cluded in the report, the De­fense De­part­ment gen­er­ally agreed with the sug­ges­tions.

The Pen­tagon said it was work­ing with the Jus­tice De­part­ment to im­prove how crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tors and prose­cu­tors re­spond to cases. AP found that fed­eral prose­cu­tors with ju­ris­dic­tion over many large do­mes­tic bases and all over­seas bases rarely pros­e­cute.

On some bases, state prose­cu­tors have ju­ris­dic­tion — and were much more likely to take a case.

Un­like the fed­eral sys­tem, states have ju­ve­nile jus­tice pro­grams that fo­cus on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

An­other rec­om­men­da­tion cited a lack of pe­di­atric sex­ual as­sault foren­sic ex­am­in­ers to help build cases based on phys­i­cal ev­i­dence — the armed forces have just 11 such spe­cial­ists, the report said. The Pen­tagon agreed that more ex­per­tise was needed and said it was work­ing on build­ing that ex­per­tise.

Gen­er­ally, the changes re­lated to child-on-child sex­ual as­sault so far have fo­cused on re­vis­ing writ­ten poli­cies for how to han­dle and track re­ports. The mil­i­tary equiv­a­lent of so­cial ser­vices, the Fam­ily Ad­vo­cacy Pro­gram, pub­lished new guide­lines, as did the Army and the Pen­tagon-run school sys­tem known as the De­part­ment of De­fense Education Ac­tiv­ity, or DoDEA.

AP’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion doc­u­mented nearly 700 sex as­sault re­ports on U.S. bases world­wide over 10 years, which was cer­tainly an un­der­count be­cause the Pen­tagon did not sys­tem­i­cally track cases.

The GAO also found that the De­fense De­part­ment didn’t know the full scope of the prob­lem be­cause data kept by its var­i­ous branches was in­com­plete — and there is no cen­tral­ized track­ing sys­tem. The Pen­tagon said it awarded a con­tract to de­velop a data­base in mid-Novem­ber.

The report also found that some com­plaints weren’t get­ting clas­si­fied as abuse by staff at mil­i­tary bases. That staff has “con­sid­er­able dis­cre­tion” in de­cid­ing whether com­plaints are in­ves­ti­gated or recorded in in­ci­dent-track­ing data.

“As a re­sult, sys­temic is­sues within a par­tic­u­lar school or district may never be re­ported to DoDEA’s lead­er­ship,” said the report, “and any ad­di­tional re­sources that a school or district needs to pre­vent fu­ture in­ci­dents may not be iden­ti­fied.”

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