Thousands of Migrant Children Allege Sexual Assault While in Gov’t Custody

By Shani Saxon Feb 27, 2019

Thousands of migrant minors have alleged that they were sexually abused while in government custody, according to The Hill. Representative Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) released internal documents from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Tuesday (February 26) that show 4,556 complaints of child sexual abuse were reported between 2014 and 2018. More than 1,000 of the allegations were reported to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The data shows the majority of the alleged assaults were carried out by other children in custody.

HHS provided the documents following a request from the House Committee on the Judiciary. According to The Hill, "the allegations include rumors of sexual relationships between staff and minors and reports of staff forcibly touching the genitals of minors, as well as inappropriate touching between staff and minors."

Deutch raised questions during a committee hearing on Tuesday that was focused on the Trump administration’s "zero-tolerance” policy, which resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families at the southern border. The Office of Refugee Resettlement typically "takes custody of unaccompanied minors who cross the southern border alone and those who are separated from their families.” Deutch addressed the agency in the hearing, saying: "These documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children." He continued, "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. This works out on average to one sexual assault by HHS staff on unaccompanied minor per week."

Of the thousands of allegations against HHS since 2015, 178 include allegations of sexual assault by adult staff. In most of those cases, the accused staffer was was fired from the organization. HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley told The Hill that all shelters operate independently and are state-licensed. And U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps official Jonathan White said that employees of migrant shelters don’t work for HHS, and that his staff wasn’t accused of assault.

"The safety of minors is our top concern when administering our unaccompanied alien children program. Each of our grantees running standard shelters is licensed by the respective state for child care services. In addition to other rigorous standards put in place by the Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, background checks of all facility employees are mandatory," Oakley told The Hill. "These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR fully understands its responsibility to ensure that each child is treated with the utmost care."