Congress demands that Pentagon, DOJ investigate child-sex assault

Associated Press

Congress reacted Thursday to an Associated Press investigation into sexual assault among children on U.S. military bases by demanding the Defense and Justice departments explain how they will solve the problem.

The House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, said it had begun its own examination of the issue. And a top Democrat on the committee said she would call a hearing within six months.

Four senators, including the veteran head of the Senate Armed Services Committee and two others who’ve made sexual assault a keynote issue, sent letters to the Pentagon and Justice Department with questions about sex assault among the military’s children.

AP’s investigation revealed that reports of sexual violence 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. Many cases get lost in a dead zone of justice, AP found, with neither victim nor offender receiving help.

“The report reveals an inscrutable system that fails these children at every level,” wrote Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat.

In a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked 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.

Separately, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, wrote the Justice Department’s inspector general requesting a “comprehensive investigation” into how many child sex-assault cases have been prosecuted and why the majority have been declined.

Inspector general offices are independent entities within federal departments charged with investigating potential problems within agencies. They do not have to accept requests for action from Capitol Hill.

A Pentagon spokesman would not comment on the day’s developments. “Alleged conversations between Secretary Mattis and other officials are private and will remain as such,” Maj. Dave Eastburn said in an email.

The Pentagon and Justice Department’s inspectors general also did not comment, nor did a spokesman for the Justice Department.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, called AP’s finding of nearly 600 reports of sexual assault among children on bases since 2007 “a national disgrace and a military scandal.”

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