Over the past four years, thousands of migrant children who came to the United States as unaccompanied minors say they were sexually abused while in government custody, with a majority saying they were abused by other detained minors, Axios reported on Tuesday.
The Department of Health and Human Services documents, which were given to the publication by Florida Rep. Ted Deutch’s office, showed the highest number of sexual abuse reports between 2015 and 2018 came in during the second quarter of 2018, when President Donald Trump’s child separation policy was in full swing.
In total, HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement—the agency tasked with housing undocumented unaccompanied minors and children taken from their families during last summer’s family separation crisis—received 4,556 complaints from October 2014 to July 2018. The Department of Justice then received 1,303 complaints, with 178 complaints alleging sexual abuse by adult staff, and 19 complaints against non-staff adults. Another 253 cases listed the perpetrator as “unknown,” and 851 reports alleged abuse by another detained young person.
Allegations of abuse by staffers made to the DOJ included “everything from rumors of relationships with UACs to showing pornographic videos to minors to forcibly touching minors’ genitals,” according to Axios. It’s unclear whether there’s an overlap in cases separately reported to both the ORR and DOJ.
In “many cases,” the staff members involved were removed from duty and ultimately fired, the site reported.
This reporting about abuse in migrant shelters comes after a review of police records published by ProPublica last year showed how quickly local law enforcement close reports of migrant child abuse with little investigation.
In a statement to Axios, HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said minors’ safety is one of the agency’s top concerns, and mentioned the licenses and background checks required by contracted facilities and their employees.
“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 in the statement. “When any allegations of abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect are made, they are taken seriously and ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond.”