The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has received thousands of complaints of sexual abuse against unaccompanied minors in government custody, according to a document made public Tuesday.
The document showed that from Oct. 2014 to July 2018, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services, received 4,556 complaints regarding sexual abuse against Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) in government custody.
In a breakdown, 514 complaints were received in the second quarter of 2018, the highest among all three-month periods.
In the same time span the Department of Justice received 1,303 complaints, including at least 197 cases in which the perpetrators were allegedly adults.
According to the document, staff members were accused of misdeeds ranging from showing pornographic videos to minors to forcibly touching minors' genitals.
U.S. news and information website Axios first reported on the document after receiving it from Representative Ted Deutch's office.
"Together, these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children," Deutch said at a House hearing.
The Department of Health and Human Services said after the document was made public that the safety of minors was its top concern in carrying out the unaccompanied alien children program and that allegations of abuse, sexual abuse or neglect "are taken seriously" and swiftly investigated.
"These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR fully understands its responsibility to ensure that each child is treated with the utmost care," the department's spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement.
The UACs are children unaccompanied by adults and were apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security for illegally entering the United States. While some UACs were traveling on their own, others fell into the category after they were apprehended at the border and separated from their parents.
ORR said on its website that the UACs have "multiple, interrelated" reasons to travel to the United States.