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US Soldiers Have A Problem With Child Sex Crimes — And Military Courts Keep It Secret

More service members are currently imprisoned for child sex offenses than for any other crime, but the military court system is shielding the cases from public scrutiny.
Foto di Olamikan Gbemiga/AP

More US soldiers are currently imprisoned in military facilities for a range of child sex offenses — from distributing child pornography to assault and rape — than for any other crime, but the military court system remains shrouded in secrecy, shielding the cases from public scrutiny, according to a recent Associated Press report.

The AP investigation found that of the 1,233 inmates currently in military prisons, 61 percent were convicted of sex crimes and more than half of those cases involved children, according to military statistics. In 2015 alone, at least 133 service members have been convicted for child sex crimes.


But outside these figures, information is about the types of crimes and lengths of jail sentences handed to those found guilty is often inaccessible. The AP found that records for military court proceedings — which operate independently of civilian state and federal courts — are only obtainable through lengthy Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and appeals, which incur fees each time.

Like civilian trials, military courts are ostensibly open to the public, but most trials are conducted on military bases, which are closed off to media and civilians.

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In one of the cases AP investigated, a convicted child sex offender, who had spent at least $36,000 producing and looking at child pornography over a period of six years, received a sentence of 144 years in prison and a dismissal. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Daniel E. DeSmit pleaded guilty to 18 counts, including conspiracy to commit the rape of a child. But his sentence was later cut back to 20 years in jail because of a pretrial deal struck with the Marine Corps — information only obtainable through a FOIA request filed by the AP, which was first rejected and then granted following an appeal.

Dozens of other service members have entered into pretrial deals with the military, the report found. In the last four months at least 31 sailors, soldiers, and Marines were found guilty of child sex crimes, and out of those at least 20 had struck a pretrial deal.

The military defines children as any person under the age of 16.

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