TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Children on MacDill Air Force Base call a stand of trees near their playground the “secret base.” But for two girls under the age of 7 and their parents, the shaded area is a place of horrific memories.

The parents of a 6-year-old said their child was sexually assaulted in the “secret base” by a 13-year-old neighbor sometime between late last year and early this year.

The child’s mother said she did not offer any clues about what happened until recently. The child’s description of the alleged incident included the elements of first-degree sexual assault.

Her father said he felt “complete anger and a combination of sadness as well” when the revelation surfaced. Making it even more difficult — the teenager lives next door to his family in base housing.

“My daughter hides from him. She’ll peek out the window. If they’re outside, she just won’t go outside,” her father said. “I need to restrain myself from getting into a physical altercation, especially when nothing is being done whatsoever.”

According to another parent, the same teenager is suspected of indecent exposure and attempted sexual assault of an even younger girl who is also his neighbor.

Terry Montrose, MacDill’s deputy chief of public affairs, said base officials are aware of the allegations.

“The safety and security of military families on MacDill AFB is our top priority,” Montrose said. “MacDill will continue to offer and provide resources to the families of the victims as well as the accused.”

Parents said they are frustrated about a lack of communication from the base investigator and concerned about reports that juvenile suspects in sex crimes committed on bases around the world have gone unpunished.

A 2018 Associated Press investigation documented 600 sexual assault cases since 2007 on U.S. bases around the world. According to the AP, about one of seven alleged assaults from a set of 100 investigations was prosecuted.

Those stats worry the Tampa Bay area parents tied to the MacDill cases.

“Understanding that this has happened before with the perpetrator getting away with it – it’s just really tough to deal with,” the 6-year-old’s father said. “Every time we talk to the agent, it seems like it’s going to happen again.”

In both MacDill cases, the parents said they want civilian law enforcement – as in police departments and sheriff’s offices – to investigate military base sex crimes.

“We don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” the 6-year-old’s dad said. “It would be better to have the prosecution for these types of cases to move directly to local authorities.”

Thursday afternoon, parents told 8 On Your Side the suspect was seen leaving the base with a suitcase. That was confirmed by Montrose.

“After an initial investigation, the base commander has barred the minor from MacDill AFB,” Montrose said.

One parent said he was told the child was banned from MacDill for three years, but he found one other detail to be disturbing.

“I was told the commanders at other bases might know about the ban, but will they do anything?” he said. “We have no idea.”

He also lamented that he has witnessed how quickly enlisted personnel are punished and sometimes moved off-base after alleged crimes.

“Why can’t children [on bases] get that same type of protection? Why did this take so long?” he said. “I just don’t understand why. We need to be better with these crimes involving our children.”

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