Senior members of Congress have called for investigations and a hearing in response to an Associated Press report that details how the U.S. military frequently fails to protect or provide justice to the children of service members when they sexually assault each other on base.
In a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, the two leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee requested Thursday that the Pentagon’s inspector general begin a “comprehensive assessment” of department policies related to sexual assaults among military kids.
Separately, another senator asked the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate how federal prosecutors have been handling such cases.
AP’s investigation revealed that reports of sexual assaults and rapes among kids on U.S. military bases at home and abroad often die on the desks of prosecutors, even when an attacker confesses. Other cases are shelved by criminal investigators despite requirements they be pursued, AP found. Many cases get lost in a dead zone of justice, with neither victim nor offender receiving help.
“It disturbs us to learn that the department’s policies and procedures may prevent efforts to help child victims of misconduct … and to rehabilitate and hold child offenders accountable,” wrote Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and top Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Neither the Pentagon nor the Justice Department had any immediate response to requests for comment.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, wrote the Justice Department’s inspector general and asked for a “comprehensive investigation” into how many cases are prosecuted and why others are routinely declined. “I hope that you will do all you can to examine the current situation and make necessary changes,” she wrote.
Inspector general offices are independent entities within federal departments that are charged with investigating potential problems within those agencies.
The top Democrat on a House of Representatives’ Armed Services subcommittee, which deals with military personnel, said she was demanding information from the Pentagon in anticipation of holding a public hearing within six months.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, called AP’s finding of nearly 600 reports of sexual assaults among children on bases since 2007 “a national disgrace and a military scandal.”
“You cannot have an environment in which children aren’t protected, regardless of whether they’re on a base or in a public school classroom. So we’ve got to change the law,” Speier said in an interview.
The tens of thousands of kids who live on U.S. bases are not covered by military law. The Justice Department, which handles civilian crimes on many bases, isn’t equipped or inclined to take on juvenile cases, AP found.
This legal and bureaucratic netherworld also extends to the Pentagon’s worldwide network of schools, which afford students fewer protections than public schools if they are sexually attacked by a classmate on campus. The federal law that offers help to victims of student-on-student sexual assault, known as Title IX, does not apply to federal education programs, such as those run by the military.
In a separate letter to Mattis on Thursday, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee demanded answers by early April to a series of questions about how the Department of Defense Education Activity – the military school system that educates 71,000 children – handles assaults on its campuses.
“As a mother and grandmother, I cannot tolerate the thought that our military children are not receiving the protection and support they deserve,” wrote Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. “I trust you share my outrage.”
Pritchard reported from Los Angeles and Dunklin from Dallas.
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