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(AP) — Congress has asked its watchdog agency to investigate the Pentagon’s handling of child-on-child sex assaults on U.S. military bases following reporting by The Associated Press that detailed how failures of justice leave victims with little support and offenders little consequence.
The AP’s investigation, which documented nearly 700 cases worldwide over 10 years, has prompted legislation and demands for answers by members of Congress. But the recent request that the Government Accountability Office get involved means a more transparent review of an opaque system is likely.
The top Republican and a top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee asked the GAO to review the handling of child-on-child sexual assault reports at Pentagon-run schools that educate about 70,000 military kids, as well as how military investigators and lawyers seek justice for cases they cannot prosecute.
Military officials want to limit congressional efforts to address sexual assaults among service members’ children, even as new data show the problem is larger than previously acknowledged.
Reps. Mac Thornberry of Texas and Jackie Speier of California wrote in an April 25 letter that they worried “the investigation and adjudication” of student sex assaults at Pentagon-run schools “may not be consistent across the department.”
The AP found that even though students at Pentagon schools have fewer legal protections than their public school peers, the system hasn’t had a specific policy for responding to child-on-child sexual violence and hasn’t accurately tracked incidents.
House committee members are considering requiring that the Pentagon’s school system improve its tracking of juvenile misconduct as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which the committee is scheduled to revise Wednesday. Their Senate counterparts are drafting more expansive legislation.
The House letter also requested information about how the military handles reports of other types of child abuse. The accountability office is not required to accept requests and is still reviewing this one, but spokesman Chuck Young wrote in an email Tuesday it was “likely” GAO would take it up. Thornberry and Speier requested a preliminary briefing by Feb. 1, 2019.
With at least four potential legislative fixes being drafted, military officials who have briefed members of Congress and their staffs in recent weeks have made clear that they want to handle the issue on their own and do not desire any new legislation.
The Pentagon has not responded to repeated questions from the AP asking whether its schools, criminal investigators or lawyers have made any changes since AP’s investigation published in March. On Tuesday, a spokesman at the Office of the Secretary of Defense declined comment.
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