Thousands of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment of migrant children in government-funded shelters were made over the past four years, including scores directed against adult staff members, according to federal data released Tuesday.
The cases include allegations of inappropriate touching to staff members allegedly watching minors while they bathed and showing pornographic videos to minors. Some of the allegations included inappropriate conduct by minors in shelters against other minors, as well as by staff members.
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., released the Health and Human Services Department data amid a hearing on the Trump administration's policy of family separations at the border. The data span both the Obama and Trump administrations, and were first reported by Axios.
From October 2014 to July 2018, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a part of Health and Human Services, received 4,556 complaints, including allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and inappropriate behavior. Of those, the Justice Department received 1,303 more serious sex abuse complaints, including 178 allegations of sexual abuse by adult staff, officials said.
Department officials said the majority of allegations weren't substantiated, and they defended their care of children. They also noted the accused staff members were not employees of the department.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement manages the care of tens of thousands of migrant children who cycle through the system each year. More than 2,700 children were separated from their parents over the summer at the border, and were placed in shelters. But most of the children in government custody crossed the border alone. Children are placed in custody until they can be released to sponsors, usually a parent or close relative, while awaiting immigration proceedings. The shelters are privately run under contracts with the government.
Youth are held for increasingly longer periods of time, currently about two months. As of the first week of February, more than 11,000 migrant toddlers, children and teens were in federal custody as unaccompanied minors, up from about 2,500 detained children three months after Trump took office.
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