By Debbie Gregory.
The U.S. military has been derelict in its duty to protect and provide justice to the children of servicemembers when they are sexually assaulted by other children on base.
Tens of thousands of children and teenagers live and attend school on U.S. military bases while their parents serve the country. Yet if they are sexually violated by a classmate, a neighborhood kid or a sibling, they often get lost in a legal and bureaucratic netherworld. That’s because military law doesn’t apply to civilians, and the federal legal system that typically handles civilian crimes on base isn’t equipped or inclined to prosecute juveniles.
Reports of sexual violence among minors on U.S. military bases at home and abroad often only get as far as the desks of prosecutors. Many cases get lost in the system, with neither victim nor offender receiving help.
The Pentagon has rules and support systems to combat sexual violence among service members, but when it comes to student-on-student assaults, officials can only point to three paragraphs of guidelines that generally prohibit sexual harassment or “physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
As a result, reports of student sex assault languish.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have requested that the Pentagon’s inspector general begin a “comprehensive assessment” of department policies related to sexual assault among military children in schools and elsewhere on base.
“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,” they wrote.
Pentagon school officials said they were developing new rules and guidance for reporting and responding to such violence. Officials also said the school system had appointed additional staff to advise families on their rights and available resources, among other reforms.