By JUSTIN PRITCHARD and FOSTER KLUG Associated Press
To the mothers, the 13-year-old boy appeared largely unsupervised as he roamed among the clusters of townhomes on the U.S. Air Force base in Japan.
It would have been unremarkable — the neighborhood was full of kids — except that young girls were starting to report the boy had led them from play and molested them.
“We were like, ‘How is this OK?’” the mother of one five-year-old girl told The Associated Press, which granted her anonymity to protect her daughter’s privacy. She locked her kids inside.
The first girl to report had to wait six days for officials on the largest Air Force installation in the Pacific to provide counseling. The mothers did not sense much urgency from Air Force criminal investigators either. They told the families they’d waited 13 days to meet the boy’s father.
By then, mothers had ID’d five girls, ages two to seven, who said the boy had taken them to some trees or a playground or his house. Another five kids would allege abuse soon after.
This was not supposed to happen again. Last August, Congress ordered the Defense Department to overhaul how it handles allegations of sexual assault among the tens of thousands of military kids who live or attend school on U.S. bases worldwide.
Yet the case at Kadena Air Base began unfolding in February — six months after President Donald Trump signed those landmark reforms.
For decades, justice has been elusive on American bases when the children of service members sexually assaulted each other. Help for victims and accountability for offenders was rare in the nearly 700 reports over a decade that an AP investigation documented.
The new law required reforms across the Pentagon. The school system it runs for service members’ kids had to create new student protections. The Family Advocacy Program, whose social service counselors would turn victims away, must review reports. The Office of the Secretary of Defense will track cases and create a policy for how to handle them.
The reforms are now rolling out, and the rollout has been uneven.
The Air Force has not drafted new guidelines. Instead, it is “reserving decision on adding or amending policy until publication of a Department of Defense policy,” according to spokesman Maj. Nicholas Mercurio.
A Pentagon spokeswoman could not say when the policy will be published.
Mercurio called the Japan case “an extremely difficult situation.” He said the Air Force has scrambled to deliver “helping resources to the families involved while remaining focused on protecting the rights and privacies of all parties and preserving the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”
Kadena Air Base spokeswoman Lt. Col. Christy Stravolo noted that the 13-year-old boy has returned to the U.S. with his family. That happened within several weeks of the first allegations. Attempts to reach his parents were unsuccessful.
The Army didn’t wait to follow the Pentagon’s lead. It wrote its own policy.
That March 21 directive mandates both a criminal investigation and victim assistance through Family Advocacy, which now must inform counterparts on other bases when an offender’s family transfers.
Because military law doesn’t apply to family members, justice must come under civilian law. So cases on Army bases will be referred to state or local district attorneys who, unlike federal prosecutors, have juvenile justice systems.