Internal documents from the Department of Health and Human Services show that in the period between 2014-2018 the agency received over 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse against unaccompanied minors.
During that same period, another 1,303 complaints were reported to the Department of Justice.
Representative Ted Deutch, who released the documents on Tuesday during a House hearing, said the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy resulted in the separation of thousands of immigrant families.
Deutch noted that the documents “demonstrate over the past three years, there have been 154 staff on unaccompanied minor…allegations of sexual assault,” adding that the figures added up to an average of “one sexual assault by HHS staff on unaccompanied minor per week.”
Axios writes that the allegations against staff members ranged from rumors of relationships with UACs to showing pornographic videos to minors to forcibly touching minors’ genitals.
The Democratic representative deemed the behavior “despicable” and “disgusting,” saying that HHS will have to answer questions about how “they handle these and what’s happening in these facilities.”
HHS Spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement that the safety of these children is their top priority and that “background checks of all facility employees” were conducted.
“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,” she added.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Hayes, the acting director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, accused Deutch of lying, maintaining that he was misrepresenting the data from the documents.
“He even went so far as to level the unfounded assertion that members of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) federal staff were the subjects of sexual abuse allegations. This was totally false,” Hayes said, adding that Deutch’s “mischaracterization of the data… was an immoral and indecent insult to all of the career civil servants who are dedicated to ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of the children in the unaccompanied alien children (UAC) program.”