Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Thousands of migrant children and teens have reported being sexually abused or harassed while in government custody during the last four years, according to recently released government figures.
According to reports made public by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) earlier this week, between October 2014 and July 2018, there were 4,556 reports of sexual misconduct made to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement Of those reports, 1,303 were deemed serious enough to be referred to the Department of Justice.
“These HHS documents detail a staggering number of sexual assaults on unaccompanied children in their custody,” Deutch said in a statement. “Together, these documents detail an unsafe environment of sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied minors.”
The Office of Refugee Resettlement began keeping statistics on sexual abuse reported by “unaccompanied minor” migrants and refugees in the fiscal year 2014 – 2015. While the figures showed a rise in the number of complaints over time, the cause for rising and falling numbers in different years were not apparent.
The number of sexual abuse claims rose after the Trump administration began the practice of separating minor children from their parents at the border during the summer of 2018.
851 of the 1,303 claims referred to the Department of Justice involved allegations of sexual assault or sexual harassment alleged to have occurred between two unaccompanied minors.
178 of the referred claims accused a staff member of assault or harassment of an unaccompanied minor. Among those claims were allegations that staff members had sexual contact with unaccompanied minors, showed minors pornography, or otherwise engaged in inappropriate relationships with them.
19 claims were made against adults who were not staff members; an additional 254 claims did not identify the alleged assailant.
According the data released by Deutch, at least two staff members accused of sexual misconduct were arrested and charged. More than a dozen additional accused staff members were terminated from their positions.
In a Feb. 26 hearing discussing the report, Commander Jonathan White of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps told Deutch claimed that the “vast majority of (sexual abuse) allegations proved to be unfounded.”
Speaking earlier this week about immigration, Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville encouraged Catholic to be attentive to the experiences of migrants, calling them “people the world often does not have time to talk to.”
“We create policies without talking to people who are affected by them,” Flores said.
“It’s so important for us as pastors to be in contact with the very concrete experiences of families,” he continued. “It is the work of the church to be hospitable,” he continued.
On Thursday, Caitlin Oakley, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, told the website Axios that the department treated allegations of abuse seriously, and required background checks for employees. She underscored that “ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond” to any allegation.
“The safety of minors is our top concern when administering our unaccompanied alien children program,” said Oakley.
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