Incidents of child abuse in the Army are on the rise, an alarming trend that coincides with the return of tens of thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to an investigation conducted by the Army Times, 3,698 cases of Army child abuse and neglect were reported last year, a 40 percent increase from 2009.
While the military has not drawn any concrete conclusions as to why such crimes are on the rise, some experts say that abusers may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which could lead to their taking their frustrations out on their children. Others cited in the report were quick to note that this type of maltreatment doesn’t always come at the hands of the spouse wearing a uniform.
A 2007 Pentagon study concluded that mothers were three times more likely to mistreat their children while their soldier husbands were away, than when they were home.
Whatever the cause, the disturbing spike raises questions about how the Army investigates such cases of child abuse and the effectiveness of its advocacy programs.
Though a foster-child died in 2008 while under the care of an Army couple in New Jersey, for example, it took five years for the couple to be indicted, according to ABC News.
John E. Jackson, 37, a U.S. Army major and his wife, Carolyn, 35, were charged in May with “unimaginable cruelty to children,” NBC Philadelphia reported. The two allegedly abused their three adopted and three biological children, but the adopted kids bore the brunt of the torture.
According to the news source, the parents forced their kids to eat hot sauce, withheld water, broke the kids’ bones and told their biological children that such practices were a form of “training,” and that they should not tell anyone about the horrors they witnessed.
The Army told NBC in May that it was cooperating fully with investigators and could not offer any further comment.
But some of these tragic cases are unfolding right within the Army community.
When Pvt. Connell Williams moved to Fort Sill, Okla., he claimed his girlfriend was his wife and that her two kids –- Marcus, 10, and Karisma, 8 -- were his own. They were granted on-post housing, according to the Military Times.
It was there that Williams and his girlfriend starved Marcus, beat him with a bat and forced the little boy to march around wearing 50-60 pounds of gear, according to court documents obtained by the news outlet.
Marcus died on May 5, 2011, weighing just 44 pounds.
The court initially sought the death penalty for Williams, but after he pleaded guilty, he was sentenced to life behind bars. His girlfriend was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
To be sure, the Army does have programs in place that are designed to prevent such crimes and to serve as a refuge for victims.
Through seminars, workshops, counseling and intervention services, the U.S. Army Family Advocacy Program works to prevent, and put a stop to, spouse and child abuse, according to the program’s website.
And in 2005, the Army began building child and behavioral health centers at major Army installations. It currently has five such bases and plans to establish them at all large bases by 2017, according to the Army Times.
But the military faces a number of obstacles in devoting more resources to such cases.
The Army has recently gotten a lot of “political pressure” to pursue domestic violence issues, but nowhere near as much in the area of child abuse, Dr. Rene Robichaux, social work programs manager at Army Medical Command, told the Army Times.
And there’s also the added complication that far too many cases go unreported.
Some are concerned about the stigma that can come with reporting a child-abuse case and how it could potentially damage their careers, Jeanette Werby, Commander, Navy Region Southeast counseling and advocacy coordinator, said in a press release in advance of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
She also noted that it’s the responsibility of the military to bring this “hidden” issue to the spotlight, in order to raise awareness and protect more kids from getting abused.
"Raising awareness about child abuse underscores that the problem is still here and so are the people who care about its resolution,” Werby said. “Those in leadership roles set the tone and course for awareness, response and intervention.”
Also on HuffPost:
'Full Battle Rattle'
Rebekah Havrilla, out on patrol in Afghanistan. The former Army sergeant and Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist enlisted in 2004, seeking out job training, education, "some patriotic element" after 9/11 and a way out of South Carolina. "I went in with the idea of making a career out of it," she says. "I thought, I can't be Special Forces, I can't do Rangers because I don't have a penis -- closest thing I can get to actually doing that type of job is EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal]."
Havrilla crouches in the remnants of a "demolition shot" she and her team did of a "bunch of captured enemy munitions" outside of Forward Operating Base Gardez, in Afghanistan. "It's a very male dominated, hypermasculine environment, so you've got to be the tomboy, kind of, 'let's play cowboys and indians. And soldiers,'" she says. But to some, this also meant persistent sexual harassment and even assault.
Havrilla says intense nightmares kept her from sleep, night after night, after she got back from Afghanistan -- until recently, when she moved to New York. Though Havrilla says that at first she suffered from the kind of hyper-vigilance described by fellow combat veterans in urban settings, she loves the city -- namely because it is so different than where she grew up, in a conservative Christian family in rural South Carolina. She is getting her Masters and working for the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN).
An early photo of Tia Christopher, who joined the Navy at age 18 in 2000 and was out just under a year later, honorably discharged with a "personality disorder."
Tia Christopher and her friend Aston Tedford at a women veterans retreat in Arizona several years ago. Christopher now works as an advocate for veterans, in particular victims of MSA, and has written guidance on the subject.
Tia Christopher in a favorite photo.
'I'm Beautiful Despite The Flames'
Tia Christopher sent this photo of her recently completed tattoo Friday, Sept. 28. Written in Arabic, she says "her motto" -- which covers scars from her assault -- more literally translates: "Despite the flames that devoured my flesh, I am still beautiful."
Claire Russo in a childhood photo.
Claire & Coconut
Claire Russo pictured at 10 years old, in 1989 with "Coconut." Russo grew up near Washington, D.C., and worked on the Hill. "I was sort of -- well no, a really privileged middle-class kid," she says. "I was just fascinated with the debate, and the decisions the government was making … And I remember a very strong desire to serve."
Claire Russo Salutes Her Cousin
Claire Russo in 2004 at Quantico, right after being commissioned, saluting her cousin Tom Winkle, a Navy lieutenant and pilot. Russo lived with Winkle in San Diego, and was with him the night of her assault, at the Marine Corps Ball. It was Winkle that reported Russo's assault; she did not want to report, being afraid for her career.
Claire Russo (right) with her roommate at The Basic School in Quantico, Va., after finishing a field exercise. Russo says that one of the 30 females in the class of 180 was raped in the barracks while she was at The Basic School.
Claire Russo in a courtyard in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006, when she served as the targeting officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. She deployed two weeks after testifying at the discharge hearing of the serviceman who raped her, Douglas Alan Dowson -- he was already in prison.
'Citizen Of Courage'
Claire Russo (front) salutes the flag during the national anthem, before she was given the "Citizen of Courage" award from the San Diego District Attorney's office in 2006. Behind her is San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and First Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF) Commanding General John Sattler, who Russo says is the "only commander to ever apologize to me for what I experienced."
Russo And San Diego DAs
Deputy District Attorney Gretchen Means, Claire Russo and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, after Russo received the "Citizens of Courage" award from the San Diego District Attorney's office at Camp Pendleton in 2006.
Down The Aisle
Claire Russo at her wedding to Josh Russo. Lt. Josh Russo was stationed at Camp Pendleton, some 40 miles north, at the time of Russo's assault in 2004. He remains in the military.
Claire And Josh Russo
Claire and Josh Russo on their wedding day, with friends from the Marines.
Russo And Her Motorcycle
"Me on my Russian Minsk 120 cc dirt bike, in Laos. This was one day on an 8 month trip/honeymoon Josh and I took. We rode motorcylces through SE Asia, Australia and went to Africa," Russo describes in a recent email.
Claire Russo in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, on a mission with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Army Paratroopers. "I spoke with the district governor that day about how we could help to get a woman working for the Ministry of Womens Affairs working in his district," Russo writes.
Claire, Josh And Genevieve Russo In Paris
Claire Russo and her husband, Josh Russo, and their baby Genevieve, here four weeks old, in Paris. Josh serves in the U.S. Army.
"My 4 week old daughter Genevieve and I in front of a painting of Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, who saved the city from the Huns," Russo writes.
Marti Ribeiro In Front Of Village
Marti Ribeiro served with the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines over eight years as a combat correspondent.
As a combat correspondent, Marti Ribeiro accompanied medical convoys to remote areas without local doctors. Such clinics were set up in specific locations, so the locals needed significant advance warning of their arrival. When one such convoy came under attack, Ribeiro returned fire, earning her a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/women-at-war-unseen_n_1498291.html#slide=964342">Combat Action Badge</a>, though as a female, she officially should not have been in a position to take fire.
'Afghan Girls On Rooftop'
A photograph of Afghan girls, taken by Marti Ribeiro during her deployment.
Ribeiro In 2006
Marti Ribeiro and an Afghan boy in 2006.
'Soaked To The Bone And Miserable'
Marti Ribeiro titles this photo -- taken in Afghanistan in 2006 -- as "soaked to the bone and miserable."
Marti Ribeiro And Her Daughter Bela
Marti Ribeiro and her daughter, Bela, in San Antonio, Texas.