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Hirono Seeks GAO Review of JROTC Program Following Pervasive Reports of Sexual Abuse and Misconduct

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) urging the agency to conduct a comprehensive review of federal agencies and military services tasked with oversight of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program. The letter was sent following disturbing reports of students being forced to join the JROTC program and widespread patterns of sexual misconduct by instructors in the program.

“The overwhelming majority of JROTC instructors are honorable and trustworthy; they have served their nation with distinction—and continue to do so by teaching and mentoring our nation’s next generation of military officers,” wrote the lawmakers. “However, any incident of sexual abuse or harassment is one too many and betrays the faith and trust that JROTC cadets and their families have placed in the U.S. military.”

Last July, a New York Times investigation found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been charged in criminal cases involving 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. According to information released by the House Subcommittee on National Security, 60 allegations of sexual abuse, harassment, or other sexual misconduct were made against JROTC instructors and reported to DOD and the military services over a five-year period, between 2017 and 2022—58 of which were substantiated following a law enforcement or school investigation.

The New York Times also reported that “dozens of schools have made the program mandatory or steered more than 75 percent of students in a single grade into the classes,” raising major questions about whether the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Education (ED) are conducting appropriate oversight of JROTC. These mandatory JROTC enrollments also appeared to be disproportionately affecting communities of color and already vulnerable students from low-income backgrounds. ED later confirmed that there is no process in place to receive reports of sexual misconduct, while DOD officials conceded “there’s very little oversight” of these programs overall and that there is no survey or public reporting on incidents of sexual assault.

“It is incumbent upon us as Members of Congress to conduct oversight and, as appropriate, consider whether additional legislation may be needed to protect JROTC cadets from sexual abuse and harassment while ensuring that DOD and the military services conduct adequate oversight and maintain the integrity of JROTC,” wrote the lawmakers.

In their letter, the lawmakers requested that GAO conduct an evaluation to review the extent to which DOD, the military services, and ED:

  1. Collect and maintain data on incidents of sexual or other misconduct involving JROTC instructors;
  2. Established policies to vet and periodically review the qualifications, credentials, and suitability of JROTC instructors;
  3. Established policies to prevent and respond to allegations of sexual misconduct within JROTC; and
  4. Established mechanisms or processes to ensure appropriate oversight of the military services’ respective JROTC programs.

In addition to Senator Hirono, the letter was signed by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Robert Garcia (D-CA), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), and Chrissy M. Houlahan (D-PA).

The full text of the letter is available here.

Earlier this year, Senator Hirono sent a letter to the DOD and ED amid reports of students being forced to join the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program. Last September, she joined the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in opening an investigation into the JROTC program following disturbing reports of widespread patterns of sexual misconduct by instructors in the program. Senator Hirono also questioned a panel of DOD leaders about the 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.