By all accounts, the Trump administration’s agenda of forced family separation and detainment has been a catastrophe: Countless men, women, and children have died while in federal custody, imprisoned within facilities that functionally act as concentration camps, which have, among other atrocities, exacerbated the spread of coronavirus among the detained. Now, a report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement says that thousands of children have allegedly suffered sexual abuse while housed within the department.
CBS News reports that the documents, released Tuesday by Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, say that HHS has received more than 1,000 allegations of sexual abuse of detained children each year since 2015. That’s a total of 4,556 sexual abuse allegations reported to the HHS between 2014 and 2018. In addition, 1303 sexual abuse allegations were made to the Justice Department; the report is unclear on whether there is overlap.
While the documents provided to the HSS do not reveal the identities of people alleged to have abused children, the Justice Department’s documents include names. Some 178 cases of the 1,303 cases reported to the Justice Department involve adult “caregivers” at detention facilities sexually abusing migrant children. These incidents include children being forcibly touched, kissed, and being shown pornographic material. While some facility staff were terminated following such reports, others retained their jobs.
“These documents tell us there was a problem with adults, employees of HHS, sexually abusing children,” Rep. Deutch said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, when he released the report. In a statement to CBS News, HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley denied that the organization failed to follow up on allegations:
“These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR fully understands its responsibility to ensure that each child is treated with the utmost care. When any allegations of abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect are made, they are taken seriously and ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond.”
Acting ORR director Jonathan Hayes also released a coinciding statement condemning Rep. Deutch for “mischaracterizing” the documents: “This was totally false,” it read.
Given all the mounting reports of atrocities coming out of detention centers, it’s sickening, but not entirely surprising, that we can now add allegations of child sexual abuse. While protestors nationwide call for defunding of police departments, let’s also turn our gaze towards the propagators of border detention, like ICE and the ORR.