Cpl. Aaron Masa became fast friends with a fellow Marine during field training in North Carolina. But behind his buddy's back, Masa was sexually abusing his friend's 3-year-old stepdaughter. He also took sexually explicit photos of the girl and the Marine's infant daughter. The case, in which Masa ultimately pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a child and production of child pornography and received 30 years in prison, sheds light on the fact that incidents involving sexual assault in which the children of service members are victims occur hundreds of times each year. The abuse is committed most often by male enlisted troops, according to data the Defense Department provided exclusively to the AP, followed by family members. An AP investigation published in November found more inmates are in military prisons for child sex crimes than for any other offense. But the military's opaque justice system keeps the public from knowing the full extent of their crimes or how much time they spend behind bars.
These newly released figures offer greater insight into the sexual abuse of children committed by service members, a problem of uncertain scale due to a lack of transparency into the military's legal proceedings. It's unclear how many of the incidents resulted in legal action. The cases represent substantiated occurrences of child sexual abuse reported to the Defense Department's Family Advocacy Program, which does not track judicial proceedings, the department said. There were at least 1,584 substantiated cases of military dependents being sexually abused between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, according to the data. Enlisted service members sexually abused children in 840 cases. Family members of the victims accounted for the second largest category with 332 cases. Responding to the AP's findings, three Democratic senators have urged Defense Secretary Ash Carter to lift what they called the military justice system's "cloak of secrecy" and make records from sex-crimes trials readily accessible. (Read more child sex abuse stories.)