Senators Seeks More Safeguards in JROTC Program After Reports of Sexual Abuse

 Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps students from Sumter County High Schools
U.S. Army senior enlisted leader briefs JROTC students during a visit, June 6, 2023. (Sgt. Amber Cobena/U.S. Army photo)

Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps units that have failed to quickly report allegations of sexual assault to the Pentagon would be suspended from the program under a bill being pushed by a group of top Senate Democrats.

The bill, dubbed the JROTC Safety Act, comes after reports that instructors engaged in widespread sexual misconduct against high school cadets in a program meant to instill leadership skills and citizenship values in teenagers.

“The JROTC program is meant to show the next generation the best of what our nation’s military has to offer, not be a place where young people have to fear harassment or assault from their instructors,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the lead sponsor of the bill, said in a statement to

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The bill, she added, will “ensure accountability for schools that fail to report abuse in the program and increase oversight of our agencies in charge.”

The bill is also being sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who caucuses with Democrats and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

A spokesperson for Warren, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee's personnel subcommittee, told the legislation is one of her priorities for this year's National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. The committee is scheduled to debate its version of the bill next week.

Allegations of sexual assault in the JROTC program first came to light in a 2022 New York Times investigation that found at least 33 JROTC instructors had been criminally charged with sexual crimes in the past five years.

Spurred by the Times report, the House Oversight Committee launched its own investigation that uncovered that 60 instructors had been accused of sexual misconduct in that same time frame. Of those, allegations against 58 instructors were substantiated by local law enforcement or school officials.

Then, in a letter earlier this year to Warren and other senators, the Pentagon revealed that, over the last 10 years, military officials have received 114 allegations of instructors committing violence, sexual abuse or sexual harassment against JROTC cadets.

At Warren and other lawmakers' request, the Government Accountability Office is also investigating the JROTC program.

The JROTC program is a partnership between the Defense Department, the military branches and high schools around the country, with more than 3,000 units nationally. Unlike the college-level ROTC program, there is no requirement to serve in the military after JROTC, but many participants do go on to join the military or the college program -- a potentially important pipeline to military service at a time when the armed forces are struggling to recruit young people.

JROTC instructors are mostly retired officers, though it is possible for active-duty officers to be assigned to the program. The instructors are employees of the high school, meaning allegations of misconduct are investigated by local law enforcement or the schools rather than the military. But federal law calls for Defense Department oversight of the program.

The Pentagon has vowed to step up its oversight in the wake of the sexual assault findings.

"We also think that we need to take a hard look at our current background investigation process regardless of whether that individual had a background investigation recently conducted while they were in service, and that we need to look even beyond our traditional background investigation to see if there's other tools that we need to add to that, such as potentially social media checks to make sure that we get a 360-degree look at those that we are putting in a leadership role to some of our most vulnerable and young Americans," Stephanie Miller, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, said at a Senate hearing last year.

Under the bill being introduced Wednesday, the Pentagon would have to suspend any JROTC unit that fails to notify it and the U.S. Department of Education of any allegations of sexual harassment or abuse within 48 hours of the school receiving it.

The Pentagon would also have to conduct climate surveys to better understand and address discrimination in JROTC programs; 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; and submit annual reports to Congress on discrimination and harassment in the programs.

The New York Times has also reported that some schools have made JROTC programs mandatory for their students. Warren's bill would prohibit schools from enrolling students in the program without "informed consent" and require the Pentagon to suspend any units that have forced students to join.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: 60 Junior ROTC Instructors Accused of Sexual Misconduct in Past Five Years, Investigation Finds

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