According to internal government figures released Tuesday, sexual abuse among undocumented minors in government custody is shockingly common: In the last five years, there have been over 5,000 allegations of unaccompanied migrant children being sexually abused while in government custody, Axios reports. The data, which Rep. Ted Deutch also released to Bustle, was compiled by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.
Bustle has reached out to the DOJ for comment. In a statement to Bustle, HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said that "the safety of minors is our top concern when administering our unaccompanied alien children program," and that HHS staff are held to "rigorous standards," including mandatory background checks before hiring.
“These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR fully 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, they are taken seriously and ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond.” Oakley did not directly address the allegations in the Axios report, however.
The revelation came in the form of documents that HHS gave the House Judiciary Committee in January in response to a request for information, Axios reports. The documents show that in the last four years, the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement has received 4,556 complaints of sexual abuse of unaccompanied immigrant children in its custody, while the DOJ received 1,303 such complaints over the same time span.
Ever since the Trump administration began separating undocumented children from their parents at the border, there have been isolated reports of migrant children being sexual abused in detention facilities. In August, a staff member at an Arizona facility was arrested for allegedly molesting a 14-year-old immigrant, and in July, ProPublica identified 125 reports of immigrant children being sexually abused in government custody over the last five years.
However, the numbers in Tueday's report suggests that the problem is magnitudes greater than the ProPublica report suggested.
Most of the abuse allegations were made against other minors in the government's custody. In 178 cases, however, the DOJ received complaints of adults staff members sexually abusing migrant children in its custody. According to Axios, the documents in question include allegations of DOJ staff molesting, showing pornographic videos to, and having "relationships" with unaccompanied migrant children. It's unclear what happened to such staff members, or if they were allowed to remain employed.
The HHS complaints, which comprised the bulk of the allegations, weren't categorized by perpetrator type.
In a statement to Bustle, Deutch called the number of allegations "staggering," and accused the Trump administration of being incapable of protecting migrant children in its custody.
"Together, these documents detail an unsafe environment of sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied minors," Deutch said. "With the number of allegations each year roughly breaking down to one sexual assault per week for the last three years, clearly this Administration is not equipped to keep these children safe inside their facilities. Congress and the public demand answers and a clearer understanding of how these allegations are being investigated and what is being done to protect these vulnerable children."