New government documents reveal that over 5,800 complaints of sexual abuse from unaccompanied minors were reported to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice between the years of 2014 and 2018. The documents were released by Democratic representative Ted Deutch of Florida, during a hearing on the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies, which have led to a dramatic increase in the number of people — specifically children — detained by the U.S. government.
“I am deeply concerned with documents that have been turned over by HHS that record a high number of sexual assaults on unaccompanied children in the custody of the Office of Refugee and Resettlement,” said Deutch during the hearing. “Together, these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children.”
“These documents demonstrate 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 continued.
According to Axios, who first reported on the documents, that number may actually be slightly higher. According to their review of the HHS documents (which detailed all of the complaints to HHS and DOJ), of the 1,303 complaints filed to the DOJ, 178 of the allegations named an adult staff member as the abuser.
Some of the allegations in the documents included reports that adult staff members formed relationships with detained minors, showed children pornographic videos, and forcibly touched minors’ genitals. Investigations into the allegations often ended in the termination of the staff member, according to the documents.
HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said that such allegations “are taken seriously,” and that the Office of Refugee Resettlement is swift “to investigate and respond.”
“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,” Oakley said, adding that “background checks of all facility employees are mandatory.”
Since the Trump administration enacted its “zero tolerance” policies last year, the number of children detained put detention centers nearly at full capacity. By September 2018, 12,800 minors were being detained, with over 3,000 children being held in a “tent city” where journalists and advocates described inhumane living conditions.
The thousands of abuse allegations detailed in the documents released by Deutch on Tuesday follow months of reports about child abuse in detention centers, including allegations that children were forcibly strapped to chairs, molested, and denied sufficient medical care.
“The details of these sexual-abuse allegations are shocking,” said Deutch during the hearing. “It was our responsibility, this administration’s responsibility, to keep these children safe … but we failed.”