Faced with an epidemic of child abuse across the four services, the Defense Department is establishing a child abuse working group, according to a Pentagon spokesman.
“The Department is in the process of establishing a Prevention and Coordinated Community Response to Child Abuse, Neglect and Domestic Abuse Working Group,” said DoD spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.
The working group is part of the Pentagon’s effort to strengthen “awareness and prevention efforts to protect children and apply resources to prevent incidents of child abuse, neglect and domestic abuse,” he said.
DoD is under pressure from two powerful members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who have pressed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for child abuse statistics and a plan to reverse the trend.
The senators’ inquiry was sparked by an Army Times investigation that found 29,552 cases of child abuse in the Army alone between 2003 and 2012. The abuse led to the death of 118 Army children; 1,400 of the cases included sexual assault.
The number of Army cases has spiked 28 percent between 2008 and 2011. The Air Force is also reporting a 25 percent increase in cases of child abuse and assault between 2008 and 2012.
Subsequent inquiries by Military Times uncovered similar statistics in the other services.
In all services except the Marine Corps, the number of cases has continued to climb. The Marine Corps cases dropped by 5 percent between 2011 and 2012 and have dropped significantly in fiscal 2013. But the number of Marine child abuse deaths has risen.
Between 2008 and 2012, there were 5,755 cases in the Air Force, 267 of them sexual, resulting in 16 deaths.
The Marine Corps figures for 2011 and 2012 showed 1,591 cases, 43 of them sexual, with six deaths. There have been four deaths and four sexual assaults so far this year.
The Navy reported 3,336 cases between 2009 and 2012, with a decline in 2012. But figures for the first half of 2013 show the number of cases climbing again. Among Navy families, 42 children were killed between 2008 and 2012.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote to Hagel on July 31, demanding a full accounting of the child abuse cases in the military and information on what Hagel plans to do about it.
The senators also questioned the criteria for designating a case as child abuse. According to the Army, 75,000 cases of suspected child abuse were reported between 2003 and 2012, but 40,000 of those were determined by the Army to not meet the criteria for child abuse.
“What are the criteria and who determines if they are met?” the senators asked Hagel. They also asked if all services use the same criteria. Hagel has until Sept. 6 to report back to the senators.
In early August, officials at Fort Drum, N.Y., arrested a soldier, charging him with the murder of his 4-year-old stepson.
Authorities say 31-year-old Staff Sgt. Raheem Hollis of Newark, N.J., was charged with murder, manslaughter, false official statements, assault and obstruction of justice. The case will be prosecuted in the military justice system.
Hollis is accused of attacking the boy, Michael Sanders Jr., at their home on the post. The boy died Dec. 10.
The Army is releasing no more information about the case.
Hollis is a combat engineer with the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team. He arrived at Fort Drum in August 2012.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.