Child Maltreatment within the Military Community

We are often quick to thank those who dedicate their lives to military service to our country. We recognize how they put their lives on the line so they may protect and serve the land we love. And yet, anyone who lives on a military base or is part of a military family knows our heroes face distinct challenges that civilian families simply do not encounter. More specifically, the children of our military heroes are at particular risk.

Although the Department of Defense notes a downward trend in child sex abuse cases over the past 10 years, The Child Maltreatment Center notes that since 2003, the rates of child maltreatment and family violence in military families has outpaced the rates reported for non-military families. In child sexual abuse cases reported to the DOD, the person who abused the child was 51.1% a service member parents, 14.8% a civilian parent, 13.6% other family members, and 20.5 percent an extra-familial caregiver.[1]

In addition to the role that parents have played, in 2018, The Associated Press’s released an investigative report detailing the failings of the Pentagon to protect or provide justice to the children of service members when they are sexually abused by older, more powerful, children on base. That report stated that the military chose to pursue roughly one in seven juvenile sex offense cases.[2] In a follow-up report released in 2020, the AP noted that the military was still struggling to address these cases, reporting that the Pentagon still doesn’t know the extent of the issue as “some officials dismiss incidents without reporting them.”[3]

At Darkness to Light, we believe that it is the responsibility of all adults to engage in prevention education, ensuring children, particularly those with additional vulnerabilities, are protected from sexual abuse. In partnership with CACs like the Fayetteville CAC, we build communities which focus on prevention-oriented solutions. So, what can you do to work towards prevention in your community?

  • Understand why your family might be more at risk than most. The Child Maltreatment Center sites “frequent moves, separation from family and support networks, lengthy absences of a parent, increased demands on at-home parents, and the return of a service member with physical or mental wounds[4]” which contribute to possible opportunities for those who seek to hurt children to begin the grooming process. Additionally, there is an implicit trust found among members of military community. That trust is formed in part due to the similarity of life experience and the recognition of mutual sacrifices made. While it is important to preserve this close-knit bond, it is also important to know that trust is a tool used by those looking to hurt children.
    • Advocate for Federal Legislation. The Keep Kids Safe Movement will be launching its federal Blueprint for child sexual abuse prevention, justice, and healing. Join the national movement to support organizations and policymakers as they work to keep kids safe. www.keep-kids-safe.org.

Child sexual abuse is a tough subject to face, and even harder to speak about sometimes. As President and CEO of Darkness to Light, I believe it’s the responsibility of the entire adult community to prevent child sexual abuse and ensure happy and healthy childhoods for all children. It’s on us to do anything we can to help us to protect and serve the most vulnerable of these families and communities, their children.

Darkness to Light’s flagship program, Stewards of Children®, is an award-winning training that teaches adults to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. This includes learning the facts; minimizing opportunities for adults and older youth to abuse vulnerable children; language for talking about protection with other adults and body boundaries with children; knowing and recognizing the signs of abuse; and reacting responsibly to discovery, disclosure, and suspicions of abuse. For more information, visit www.D2L.org. [5]


[1] DOD Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. https://www.sapr.mil/sites/default/files/Appendix_H_Child_Sexual_Abuse_FY2020.pdf, page 3.

[2] https://apnews.com/article/hidden-victims-41da2867897042399f3f9c55cfde3f16

[3] https://apnews.com/article/hidden-victims-b6874a9479620776550152bc69d2c6ca

[4] Child Maltreatment in Military Families: A Fact Sheet for Providers 6 The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Katelyn Brewer

President & CEO

Darkness to Light

Charleston, South Carolina

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