Thousands of migrant children have reported sexual abuse while in U.S. custody, Insider reported.
The allegations were detailed in new documents given to Axios by Florida Representative Ted Deutch, which were published on Tuesday, February 26. The documents, Deutch said, were also included in the Department of Health and Human Service’s response to a House Judiciary Committee request for information made in January.
The documents show that over a span of four years from October of 2014 to July of 2018, more than 4,556 complaints of sexual abuse were received by the Department of Health and Human Services, and that the Department of Justice received 1,303. Of the complaints brought to the DOJ, a majority were committed by other minors, but 178 complaints allege sexual assaults were carried out by adult staff members.
The allegations range from rumors of relationships between staff members and unaccompanied minors while living in government-administered shelters to showing pornographic videos to minors to inappropriately touching minors. One of the documents released by Axios included nine detailed pages of reports made between the fiscal years 2015 and 2016.
While the reported assaults date back to the Obama administration, USA Today noted that they have increased over the course of the last two years following the “zero tolerance” policy enacted by the Trump administration, which separated thousands of families at the border and caused a huge influx of children living at the facilities.
Thousands of unaccompanied migrant children allege they were sexually assaulted while in federal custody between 2015 and 2018, according to documents obtained by House judiciary panel.— Bloomberg Law (@BLaw) February 26, 2019
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“Over the past three years, there have been 154 staff-on-unaccompanied minor, let me repeat that, staff-on-unaccompanied minor allegations of sexual assault,” Deutch said during a committee hearing Tuesday regarding the “zero tolerance” policy, according to The Hill. “This works out an average to one sexual assault by HHS staff on unaccompanied minor per week.”
Commander Jonathan White of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps responded to the congressman by noting that the employees of the migrant shelters were not employed by the Department of Health and Human Services, and that none of his own staff members were ever accused of sexual assault.
In a statement issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley assured that the safety of minors was the “top concern,” and that every shelter operated by the agency is licensed for child care services by the state where it is located. She also noted that there are “rigorous standards” set by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, including mandatory background checks for all employees of the facilities.
“These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR full understands its responsibility to ensure that each child is treated with the utmost care,” Oakley said. “When any allegations of abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect are made, the are taken seriously and ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond.”