Not including the tens of thousands of adult service members sexually assaulted annually, the U.S. Department of Defense recently reported that hundreds of children from active military families are also sexually abused each year. According to an Associated Press investigation from November, more inmates are in military prisons for child sex crimes than for any other offense.
A study conducted by the Defense Department and the RAND Corporation found 20,300 service members were sexually assaulted in 2014. Most of the victims were assaulted at least twice that year, resulting in over 47,000 assaults, and 90% of the attacks occurred in a military setting by a higher-ranking service member who knew the victim. Absent from the Defense Department’s annual report to Congress on sexual assaults were the numbers of children sexually abused by enlisted service members.
On December 8, Sens. Barbara Boxer, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mazie Hirono wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter concerning the underreporting of sexual assaults taking place within the military. In an attempt to pierce the military justice system’s “cloak of secrecy,” the senators urged Carter to make records from sex-crimes trials readily accessible. Instead of advocating for transparency, the military justice system currently prevents the public from knowing the full extent of their crimes or the length of their sentences.
After acquiring data from the Defense Department, the Associated Press revealed this week that at least 1,584 substantiated cases of military dependents were sexually abused between fiscal years 2010 and 2014. According to the data, enlisted troops sexually abused children in 840 cases. The victims’ family members perpetrated the crimes in 332 cases. The numbers only account for substantiated cases of child sexual abuse reported to the Defense Department’s Family Advocacy Program and do not include child victims who are not military dependents.
Due to the fact that many of the victims were repeatedly attacked, at least 160 additional cases of child sexual abuse could have occurred between 2010 and 2014. The majority of sexual offenders were male, while an overwhelming majority of victims were female children.
Last year, U.S. Marine Cpl. Aaron Masa was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a child and production of child pornography. Stationed at Camp Lejeune, Masa befriended a Marine sergeant and his family in 2013. While babysitting their young daughters, Masa took nude photos of the children while repeatedly molesting them. Although their mother suspected in March 2014 that her 3-year-old daughter had been molested, Masa remained free for months until a neighbor reported the abuse.
Arrested in 2008 for threatening to bring a gun to high school and shoot three students, Masa was found with a knife and later pled guilty to a disorderly conduct charge. After barely graduating high school in May 2010, Masa enlisted in the Marine Corps a month later. According to a Marine spokesman, Masa was found qualified after a thorough screening process that involved physical, mental, and moral evaluations.
With tens of thousands of sexual assaults occurring annually in the military, the country’s national security becomes under threat when troops can no longer trust their own colleagues. Unable to tell the difference between a qualified service member and a sexual predator, the military’s willful incompetence and lack of transparency allows sex offenders to incessantly escape justice, while stigmatizing the victims. By initially failing to disclose the hundreds of child abuse cases, the Pentagon sought to underreport the problem instead of taking measures to prevent the thousands of servicemen, servicewoman, and their children from being sexually assaulted this year.