September 22, 2022

Hirono, Colleagues Open Investigation into Failure to Protect Students in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps from Sexual Misconduct

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, opened an investigation into the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program following disturbing reports of widespread patterns of sexual misconduct by instructors in the program. The senators sent letters to the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Education (ED), which are tasked with shared oversight of the JROTC program, to learn more about current processes to ensure the safety of students in the program and to determine where those processes failed and left students vulnerable to sexual misconduct.

“The damage done by sexual abuse in the JROTC program can be devastating… it is clear that students have suffered incredible harm because ED and DoD currently lack the necessary oversight to prevent it from becoming a hunting ground,” wrote the senators.

JROTC programs are facilitated by retired or reserve commission and non-commissioned military officers. Instructors apply with their respective military departments, and each military service is in charge of developing and implementing instructor qualification, certification, and training requirements. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 gives ED the authority to protect students from discrimination based on gender identity, including sexual harassment and assault. 

Recent reporting by the New York Times found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been charged in criminal cases involving sexual misconduct. Their analysis of arrest information for three of the country’s largest high school districts found that “‘the J.R.O.T.C. program has recorded one arrest for every 232 instructor positions… 68 percent higher than the next highest case rate’ of teacher-student sexual misconduct.” Across the country, there are numerous cases of JROTC instructors who were criminally charged with sexual misconduct and had been the subject of complaints from students in the past. 

During a Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee hearing yesterday, Senator Hirono questioned a panel of DOD leaders about the recent New York Times article, asking whether the branches were aware of this problem in their respective JROTC programs and what they planned to do to address this misconduct.

In the letter, the senators note JROTC environments may make it harder for victims to come forward since JROTC instructors are more akin to superior officers than teachers. JROTC host schools are also often in economically-disadvantaged areas. The senators expressed concerns that schools and JROTC programs lacked sufficient guidance and training, and that schools were unclear about where to report misconduct allegations.

All of the military services are reporting increased recruiting challenges and the Army does not expect to meet its targets this year. Military recruitment is not the stated goal of the JROTC program but an Army study found JROTC participants were twice as likely to enlist. Given the troubling instances and oversight failures that allowed sexual misconduct, the senators are asking DOD to answer a set of questions about sexual abuse in the JROTC program and its oversight mechanisms and ED to answer a set of questions about its oversight and Title IX authority over the JROTC program by October 14, 2022

The full text of the letters are available here.

Senator Hirono has long worked to end sexual harassment and assault in the military. Since 2013, she has championed the Military Justice Improvement Act to establish an impartial, fair, and accountable military justice system to address sexual assault. In 2020, she introduced the I am Vanessa Guillen Act in the Senate to remove decisions about prosecuting cases of sexual harassment and assault from the chain of command. This past April, Senator Hirono also introduced the Sexual Harassment Independent Investigations and Prosecutions (SHIIP) Act to remove sexual harassment from the military chain of command.

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