Sexual assault has long been an issue in the U.S. military. While the military has taken steps to reduce sexual assault against those in service, it has been reluctant to pursue cases of sexual assault involving youth, according to investigative reporting by the Associated Press.
According to the AP, there have been at least 600 confirmed reports of alleged sexual assault involving minors on military bases since 2007. There are certainly more unreported cases, perhaps many more. These are instances in which one minor is alleged to have sexually assaulted another student.
The Pentagon’s school system has over 70,000 students.
Unfortunately, the Pentagon and Justice Department are not equipped to handle prosecution of such cases. Children are not covered by military law, and the U.S. Justice Department does not often pursue criminal charges. According to an AP review, prosecutors only charged one in seven alleged cases involving a sex offense with minor children.
Congress Seeks Investigation And Action
On March 15, Congress reacted to the AP report by demanding the Pentagon, Defense and Justice Departments investigate the protection of youth on military bases and outline what steps they will take to remedy the situation.
In addition, the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee indicated it was also investigating sexual assaults involving youth on military bases. Several senators also wrote to the Justice Department’s inspector general, asking that the inspector investigate how many prosecutions have been taken against child sex offenders, and the reason why so few are prosecuted.
Like Other Schools, The Military Should Protect Children
Public and private schools have an obligation to protect the children in their care, including from sexual assault. The failure to protect children can lead to legal liability. This is true of the U.S. military, as well. Civilians can sue the military for failing to prevent sexual assault when it had the ability to do so.
It is not just a legal issue, however. While having federal civilian law govern on military bases can be complex, that is no excuse for not protecting children or pursuing criminal penalties and rehabilitation for offenders. Hopefully, the awareness raised by the AP report leads to significant change, so that other children may not have to experience the pain and trauma of sexual assault.