Senate Democrats demand answers over abuse allegations in JROTC program

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Greg Nash
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) leaves the Senate Chamber following a vote on Wednesday, September 14, 2022.

Senate Democrats are demanding answers from the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Education regarding failures to protect students enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) from abuse.

The probe — led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — comes after an investigation published in The New York Times found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been criminally charged with sexual misconduct involving students, and many others have been accused of misconduct but never charged.

In letters to Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the senators asked for answers about the safety of JROTC programs and any failures that leave students vulnerable to sexual assault.

Warren and Gillibrand are joined by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“Each act of misconduct by the instructors, particularly those negative acts related to a vulnerable and extremely impressionable population, leaves a stain on the military,” the senators wrote.

“Furthermore, the DoD has stated that its goal is ‘a culture free of sexual assault, through an environment of prevention, education and training, response capability … victim support, reporting procedures, and appropriate accountability that enhances the safety and well-being of all persons’ who fall under its rules and regulations,” they added.

The Hill has reached out to the Pentagon and Department of Education for comment.

The Army JROTC program was established under the National Defense Act of 1916, but later expanded to all military services in 1964. About 500,000 students are participating in the program, according to the RAND Corporation.

Most instructors under the program are either retired or reserve officers, as well as enlisted noncommission officers who are employees of the school district.

The Times’ investigation, published in July, found that at least seven instructors who were criminally charged with sexual misconduct were flagged, but allowed to stay on the job.

It also found that some instructors operate with little oversight and training, and that schools often struggle to monitor and investigate complaints, as students often report instances of harassment with little action taken.

The senators asked Cisneros to provide answers to more than a dozen questions regarding the program, and specifically about the process for how the Pentagon and military services learn of sexual misconduct allegations from instructors and whether they’re subject to prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The lawmakers also asked Cardona how many complaints the Department of Education has received of Title IX violations in school-affiliated JROTC programs within the past 10 years, and whether the Department of Education has a process for receiving and investigating complaints it receives from the Pentagon.

The request for the senators isn’t the only congressional investigation that has been sparked amid the Times’ investigation.

Last month, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) wrote letters to the Pentagon asking for information on how the military services conduct oversight of their respective JROTC corps.   

Tags Abuse allegations Elizabeth Warren JROTC Kirsten Gillibrand Miguel Cardona pentagon Richard Blumenthal
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