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Hirono, Warren, Sanders Introduce Junior Reserve Officer Training Safety Act

~ Legislation would protect JROTC recruits from abuse, forced enrollment and increase oversight of program ~

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in introducing the Junior Reserve Officer Training (JROTC) Safety Act of 2023 to better protect JROTC recruits following reports of program instructors sexually assaulting and harassing high school students. The legislation would also increase oversight of the agencies charged with running the program and prohibit mandatory enrollment of students into the program.

“The reports of abuse, mistreatment, and compulsory enrollment in JROTC programs nationwide are deeply disturbing and must be addressed immediately,” said Senator Hirono. “JROTC students and their families should be able to trust that they will be safe and respected in the JROTC program, and this legislation will help ensure they can. I will continue working to ensure that the more than 500,000 students participating in JROTC programs across the country—and the students who follow—are safe and protected.”

In December 2022, a New York Times investigation found 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 concerns over the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Education’s (ED) oversight of the program. Earlier that year, another investigation found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been charged in criminal cases involving sexual misconduct.

Specifically, the JROTC Safety Act would mandate:

  • Accountability for Schools that Fail to Report Abuse: Schools failing to report allegations of sexual assault and harassment allowed those instructors to stay in place and hurt other students. DoD must suspend any JROTC unit that fails to notify DoD and ED of allegations that an instructor sexually harassed or assaulted a JROTC student within 48 hours after the school received the allegation.
  • Enhanced Reporting: Many survivors of sexual assault are afraid to come forward to report abuse. DoD must conduct climate surveys to better understand and address discrimination in JROTC programs;
  • Clear Processes to Report Civil Rights Violations: There is not a clear and consistent understanding of JROTC students’ rights. DoD must certify that any school with a JROTC program has a process for students to report Title IX violations and training for students on sexual assault and harassment prevention and reporting;
  • Standardized Annual Reports on Abuse: Until recent investigations, there has been no reporting to Congress or the public about known violations of students’ rights. DoD and ED must submit annual reports on discrimination and harassment in JROTC programs and the programs’ policies and compliance on preventing harassment and discrimination;
  • An End to Mandatory Enrollment in JROTC: Investigations revealed schools have forced students to participate in JROTC. Under this bill, schools may not enroll students without informed consent and DoD must suspend units forcing students into JROTC; and
  • Increased Oversight of Agency Efforts to Prevent Abuse: The Government Accountability Office must submit a report to Congress on the bill’s implementation and DoD and ED efforts to prevent sexual violence in JROTC.

The legislation is endorsed by Protect Our Defenders, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Service Women’s Action Network.

The full text of the bill is available here. A one page summary is available here.

Last month, Senator Hirono released a statement on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) decision to launch a review of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program, in light of the reports of mandatory enrollment and pervasive sexual abuse and misconduct in programs across the country. 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. In September, Senators Hirono, Warren, Gillibrand, and Blumenthal opened an investigation into the JROTC program’s failure to protect students from sexual misconduct. A New York Times investigation found 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 DoD and ED are conducting appropriate oversight of JROTC. These mandatory JROTC enrollments appear to be  disproportionately affecting communities of color and already vulnerable students from low-income backgrounds. 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.