Sexual misconduct in high school military leadership program worse than previously known, report says



CNN

A congressional report found that sexual misconduct by instructors in a military leadership program operating in high schools across the United States was a bigger problem than previously thought.

There have been 58 substantiated allegations of sexual abuse, harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct over the past five years by Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program instructors at programs at across the country, according to the report.

The House Subcommittee on National Security Oversight and Reform undertook the investigation after The New York Times published an article exposing a pattern of teen sexual abuse in JROTC programs. The Times investigation uncovered 33 sexual assault allegations made against instructors, but when Congress started digging in, they quickly discovered the problem was worse.

House Oversight Chairman Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts have requested more information from the Department of Defense on the matter. in August.

Initially, the Department of Defense confirmed to the committee that there had been 33 allegations of sexual assault against instructors over the past five years, as reported by The Times in July. But in the department’s Nov. 3 final response to the committee, the number of allegations against JROTC instructors nearly doubled to 60, and 58 of those allegations were substantiated.

The increase came as the committee widened the scope of its investigation to look not only at allegations of sexual assault, but also sexual abuse, harassment and other misconduct.

“The information our subcommittee is releasing today paints a disturbing picture of how some JROTC instructors are using their positions of authority to exploit and abuse students who have placed their faith and trust in the U.S. military” , Lynch said in a statement. “Sexual abuse or misconduct by a JROTC instructor cannot be tolerated.”

The JROTC program operates in 3,500 high schools across the country with approximately 530,000 cadets generally between the ages of 13 and 18. The goal of the program is to teach and instill values ​​and leadership skills in adolescents. Although there are no military service requirements after JROTC, many of these students in the program enlist in the military or attend a similar college program.

A voluntary high school program, JROTC is designed as a partnership between the Department of Defense, military service branches, and the schools in which the programs are located.

It is possible that there are more than 60 allegations of which the department has been made aware over the past five years. Because JROTC instructors are employees of the schools where the programs are based, allegations of misconduct are first investigated by the school district and local law enforcement. Allegations are not automatically reported to the Department of Defense, leaving a potential blind spot in program oversight.

“School districts and law enforcement may choose not to release all information regarding the outcome of an investigation because JROTC cadets are high school students and typically minors,” the DoD told the committee, according to the report.

Of the 60 allegations brought against JROTC instructors, the greatest number of instances were brought against JROTC instructors in the Army curriculum, with 26 allegations in total. There were 11 allegations against Navy JROTC program instructors, 16 against U.S. Marine Corps JROTC program instructors, and seven against U.S. Air Force JROTC program instructors, according to the report. .

CNN asked the Pentagon to comment on the report.

JROTC instructors are retired or reserve officers and enlisted NCOs, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Although the instructors are employees of the schools where the JROTC program is based, the program is considered a partnership with the DoD and DoD oversight is required.

According to DoD policy, each military service is expected to evaluate its respective JROTC programs annually. The Congressional report found that the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps did not meet this requirement, instead conducting assessments every few years.

The U.S. Army Cadet Command “conducts accreditation inspections” of JROTC programs on an annual basis for one-third of all U.S. Army JROTC programs, according to the report. The military also conducts what it calls “assistance visits” each year for “programs identified as requiring additional attention,” the report said.

The US Navy conducts inspections of JROTC programs “at least once every two years”, while the US Air Force conducts “virtual unit evaluations annually” and “on-site or in-person” evaluations. once every 3.3 years”. says the report. The US Marine Corps conducts “official in-person visits once every two years,” the report adds.

The House National Security Oversight Subcommittee is holding a hearing Wednesday to discuss its findings.

“I am committed to working with the Department of Defense and our military services to ensure the safety and well-being of our JROTC cadets, so they can continue to fulfill their dreams and aspirations in civilian or military service. of our nation,” Lynch said in a statement.

The department worked to address issues of sexual assault and harassment within the military, including updating how crimes of sexual assault and harassment are handled and prosecuted in the military with a series of changes passed in the National Defense Authorization Act last year.

Even with the reforms, reports of sexual assaults in the military increased 13% in the fiscal year from October 2020 to September 2021 compared to the previous fiscal year, according to a report released in September.

Kevin E. Boling