Many great leaders say, “leave a community better than you found it’. But what does that really mean? Does it mean unchanged big ways? I’ve learned over my journey as a military spouse that unless you make big waves, changes don’t actually happen; this is across all of the branches and within all of our communities.
This article to you as a fellow spouse is me making an intentional wave. In hopes of making sure our communities are a little more educated and a little more aware. Aware and educated about what? Well, that some military families face crises inside our community sometimes due to other military members or their families’ actions.
Before I tell you about how I became educated in all of the rules, regulations, and oversight, I want to take you back to 2018. I was the volunteer President for our Enlisted Spouses Club. I was intertwined with many of the First Sergeants at the Air Force base we were stationed at. I helped these First Sergeants operate moments of kindness for their squadrons and prepare for seven separate memorial receptions for the 7 Airman we lost in 10 months.
My favorite part of it all was that I helped them connect to spouses within their squadron and around the base. I was also a Master Resilience Trainer creating the spouse initiative at our base. I worked remotely as a Digital Marketing Manager and freelanced for local churches in our community.
During 2018 I became weary of the isolation that remote life can create; I felt like I never left my house… just zoom call after zoom call. In August of 2018, I decided that I would find a job outside of my remote position. This meant that our then 2-year-old daughter would need full-time daycare.
Due to my daughter’s age, I had been able to balance working, volunteering with part-time care, and my active duty spouse’s help. I knew that finding a job would take some time because that local area was not keen on hiring military spouses due to the length of time spouses typically were stationed there with their active-duty members. Thankfully by November, I found a position as a graphic designer at a cause marketing agency. I was excited to be there and to start this chapter.
To follow the rules and the regulations of our military installation where I lived, I enrolled our child in a Family Childcare Home; commonly known as an FCC Home. It wasn’t the Family Childcare Home that I wanted, but the other person’s license and background check were delayed for some reason, but since it was regulated by the Air Force I thought that I could trust for care, even if it wasn’t the one I preferred.
In mid-December, while at work getting ready to pitch a marketing campaign, I received photographs taken by a third party through the FCC provider’s Facebook messenger. When I saw these photos, my stomach sank. My child was re-dressed in brand new clothing that I was unaware of, hair was redone, and she was posing with the FCC provider in her pajamas.
I took a deep breath, and I texted my spouse and showed him what I got, and he said: “no, that feeling and concern is right.” We then removed our daughter from this FCC provider and kept our daughter home to monitor her. After two weeks of watching and trying to decipher all of the signs of dysregulation, screaming, violence, needing significant reassurance, and inappropriate sexual behavior meant. We called our civilian pediatrician, who then recommended taking her to the local emergency room.
Once upon arriving at the E.R., the nurses listened, and then the local sexual assault victims advocate and police came. I repeated our concerns and where they stemmed from, the things we’re seeing, and then a medical examination happened. A few hours after arrival, we left with discharge paperwork, victim resources, and a police report number.
Since it was late, I did not read the paperwork. I just carried my kid in my arms out to my car out past the women’s ward where we brought her into the world almost three years prior. Wondering what the purpose of this visit was because it didn’t really seem to do anything except to give me the paperwork.
Why did I tell them my concerns? Why did I let them into the nightmare we had been watching and living in just to get some paperwork? Where was the immediate help in stopping the games that she was playing or the things she was doing to herself? The next day, I stopped and read the papers we were given — sexual assault by bodily force by caregiver.
Those words changed everything.
Had I known what we were going to walk through the next 24 months, I would have said “no way.” I then googled signs of sexual assault on young children. Check, check, check, check, check — how did I brush some of these off as fixable or adjustment? And wait, this doesn’t happen in our military community. Not only did our case get reported to the local police, but it was also shared with the military investigative agency because of the interagency agreement.
This is where I have to pause with just sharing what we lived because we went through a lot after our young daughter’s case was reported and it was a lot for any family to endure while dealing with such trauma. From harassment to intimidation to downright not being believed. And I was desperate to get help for our daughter and her experience.
After I was laid off a few weeks later for not being able to be at work due to trying to find our child services, I took to social media, and I received a call on my personal cell phone from the then Command Chief citing my social media post was “unsubstantiated.” Which made zero sense because we had the medical evidence and my child’s inappropriate sexual actions and the traumatic games she would play. Once I laid everything out, I was told I would get a call back. One week later, this Command Chief retired, and I never heard from Senior Leadership again.
This is where I now have to make a wave and educate you on some of the rules and regulations that I have uncovered in the last 24 months through an Inspector General complaint and multiple conversations with those above that installation leadership. Some of these educational moments were brought to us by our daughter’s Special Victim’s Council, and some were discovered after talking to other command chiefs after we left the base we were stationed at.
Throughout all of this, the word unsubstantiated stuck with me. How could we have the medical paperwork that we did, and it be unsubstantiated?
At the time we were told that for the investigative agency to open a case, they needed three things… a victim’s statement, photographs or video of it happening, and a medical examination. Since we did not know better at that time or have these three things, a case was not opened, which meant no one was investigated or charged. At that time we were just left to pick up the pieces of our child and our lives that had shattered because of what happened and the issues she was continuing to experience.
After some investigation, we found out the following items:
- The victim’s statement was not taken due to our child’s age which at the time was 3 years old. The investigative agency declined to interview her because of her age. We were told that the military investigative agency does not interview children under the age of 3, and in our case, their notes show that they did not contact a headquarters subject matter expert on conducting an interview on children.
- The photographs or video that the investigative agency told us they needed to open a case was false information.
- The investigative agency and special agents were not educated on how to handle child sex crimes and the notes that were taken do not describe the actual items that our child was going through.
- The medical examination was not believed by the investigative agency and since the local police went off the investigation that the military investigative agency did the local police found no reason to pursue an investigation due to lack of being a violent crime.
- The investigative agency acted out of standard operating procedures by discussing our case with military family agencies that were not involved nor would ever be involved in handling our child’s case which lead to disinvites for speaking requests from those family agencies for me.
- The investigative agency acted out of standard operating procedure when they told the Family Advocacy Program to stand down.
We have since asked that a curriculum on child sex crimes be built for the military investigative agency so that when they handle such crimes, they are equipped to handle them.
We also learned that our child’s case was not entered into the Family Advocacy System of Record and it was not reviewed by the Clinical Case Staff Meeting meaning a Central Registry Board (CRB) was not opened. And separately a Family Child Care Panel was not held regarding the sexual assault, only the unconsented photographs.
So, let’s take a moment to break this down. Since the Family Advocacy Program did not look into a maltreatment case reported to them it was not entered into a system called the Family Advocacy System of Record meaning that the next step of a Clinical Case Staff Meeting did not happen which means a CRB did not hear the case.
What does a CRB do and who sits on the CRB? The CRB is chaired by the vice wing commander, and membership includes the staff judge advocate, security forces, Office of Special Investigations, Family Advocacy officer, command chief master sergeant, and the member’s unit commander. The CRB hears cases of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and neglect. There are strict guidelines and criteria for determining whether or not an allegation meets the Air Force definition for maltreatment. Once information on the case is presented, a show-of-hands vote determines whether or not a non-accidental act was committed, and if so, whether or not there was a significant impact from the act. The findings are entered into a DoD Central Registry database maintained by Brooks City-Base.
The support of the Family Advocacy Program would have meant that the case would have been heard and our daughter and we would have had the tools to handle the emotional and mental health issues our daughter was experiencing. The opening and hearing of a CRB would have potentially stopped this FCC provider from opening at another base, and it would have unlocked additional base resources for us as parents.
But it didn’t happen, because we were not believed. We eventually collected ourselves enough and got our child into therapy at the local advocacy facility that helps treat children and their families who have experienced childhood sexual abuse through a state-funded victims grant. The interview to get her into therapy itself was a feat; we had to sit through a nearly two-hour interview explaining our family makeup and all that had happened. We basically had to relive what had become our worst nightmare.
In our journey, we also learned that the Family Childcare Homes are licensed by the military branch they work under, not the local state. What does that mean for us as customers of the FCC homes? Well, when the state oversees daycares, they publicly publish the issues found upon inspections. With the FCC homes, those inspections just sit in a file in a desk on the military installation. As a parent, you will never know the issues this provider has had or were found upon inspection.
In all of this, we also realized that there isn’t a safe way to report sexual assaults on young children.
In adult cases of sexual assault in the military, there is Restricted Report and Unrestricted. For children, there is not that. There is no organization or form to start a report.
So as you can imagine you or your child’s privacy isn’t protected and in our case, it led to an extreme mishandling of our daughter’s case. For us, those who were interviewed by the military investigative agency were sharing that we came forward with a false report of sexual assault, and many in positions of authority were sharing our child’s private information about her sexual assault to their personal friends. Many did not and do not understand that no evidence is different than not enough evidence to proceed. Her Special Victims’ Counsel attempted to get this to stop and there be an understanding of this, but the leadership of the people doing it became complacent and continued to allow it to happen, leaving us unprotected.
Earlier I mentioned our Special Victims Counsel — What is a Special Victim’s Counsel? It is a program developed by the military that is a military attorney who specializes in representing victims of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking, and other similar crimes. Not anyone can get an SVC. You have to go through an application system, and you are not always granted one, but our daughter was. The SVC helped us as the parents of a minor understand the rules and regulations and what we could or couldn’t do.
They helped my spouse request a humanitarian assignment because, at that time, Active Duty members could not get expedited transfers if their dependent was sexually assaulted. The request in itself was another lesson that we had to learn.
Due to our daughter’s medical needs, they turned the humanitarian assignment into an EFMP assignment.
We’ve heard of the medical EFMP issues, right? We had no idea how bad it was until we experienced it after all of the trauma that we went through. The local EFMP allowed us to PCS to another base with two possible therapists for her.
When we got there, we found out that one of the therapists they recommended saw sexual offenders, and the other didn’t exist. We ended up going through and calling 150 therapists in the “surrounding” area to find zero services. And after 5 months of searching, we ended up driving 150 miles weekly for therapy for her.
Thankfully, after ten months of a heated exchange with the local EFMP, they were able to reassign us to another base thanks to the AF & EFMP HQ because there were zero therapy services within the local area and none out of the network that Tricare could enroll.
Having this type of crisis and trauma and additional EFMP issues was a difficult season of life — it’s not one that we’ve entirely made it out of, but we’re now in a spot where we can find a sliver of clarity to understand what our child and our family has lived these last 24 months. That sliver of clarity is helping us inform you of what we’ve lived through and what the current rules and regulations are.
I know that some will say in the comments, “make a congressional complaint or “go to the Inspector General,” they will fix it. Well, we have. Our congressmen told us they couldn’t investigate this, so to use the Inspector General. At the end of May of 2019, we submitted a 13-page complaint. This complaint was later broken into two cases — one at the local level and one through the military investigative agency.
For the local level one, we waited 19 months for it to conclude; to only be told the provider took unconsented photographs and everything else was done “right”. For the military investigative agency case, we were basically told: “our hands are tied, and everything was done right.” Until I got a call after requesting the FOIA. Then we’re then told that the case notes did not match what was happening in many ways the investigative agency acted outside of the “standard operating procedures.”
Some will say, “go to a military non-profit that advocates and lobbies for change.” I have, but our situation doesn’t align with their ‘military family issues” or was viewed as “just a west coast issue, not one that is really “rampant” in our military.”
A fraction of these issues we have lived through are in the 2021 NDAA in section 549B, I know, but it isn’t enough. Because It primarily covers the tracking of these cases. “Tracking it” will only be for the families they (local leadership/FAP/the military investigative agency) deem it for. Like in our case, we had medical evidence, but the military investigative agency said they didn’t have the “items needed” to consider a case to investigate and the Family Advocacy Program stood down.
And to be honest, the tracking isn’t enough. There needs to be justice and resources for families before we fix the unemployment and underemployment issues because if our kids aren’t safe, then our careers won’t matter.
As of right now, the military investigative agencies should not be handling child sex crimes. Because not all are not educated or trained in it. Child victims and their families need to be listened to and treated without bias.
There also needs to be a vast understanding of trauma and childhood mental health needs of child victims and what type of medical needs they will have after such trauma. The families should never be blamed or accused of “making the Doctor check the sexual assault box.”
Additionally, there needs to be more regulations on these in-home FCC daycares. Right now, with how the military investigative agencies rules are written with needing video or photographs to open an investigation and these homes not being required to have video, then the military itself is establishing a very viable breeding ground for these cases. They are not offering even a sliver of possible justice, especially when we do not have parents who have been educated on the signs of sexual abuse and assault.
The bottom line though is if families aren’t believed, then tracking doesn’t matter, especially if there is no consequence for the offender or support that fully understands what trauma does to a child and what the family goes through in these types of painful crises.
If military leadership and others empathized, lived, or tried to understand the pain that comes with a traumatized child that cannot verbalize their trauma, they would never begin to think that a family would choose this road that comes after such a tragic crisis.
Which is why I have founded Operation Addi to help push forward policy and program asks for military children who are victims of sexual assault or abuse. Because our children’s safety and healing matters. You can view the current policy and program asks here.