House panel finds sexual abuse in military’s JROTC more widespread than previously thought

U.S. lawmakers looking into the military’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program found that at least 60 instructors were accused of sexual misconduct against high school cadets in the past five years, a figure far beyond what was previously known.

Of those 60 allegations, 58 were substantiated, according to a congressional memo released Wednesday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s majority staff ahead of a hearing on the JROTC program.

The New York Times released a sweeping investigative report in July that found dozens of retired service members who became leaders in JROTC programs targeted, groomed and sexually abused or harassed underage girls.

The Times investigation found at least 33 such instructors who were criminally charged with sexual misconduct involving students — in addition to many others who were accused but never charged — over a five-year period.

The report prompted Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), chairman of the committee’s national security subpanel, in August to write letters to the Pentagon asking for information on how the military services conduct oversight of their respective JROTC corps.

After that, an initially reported figure of 33 nearly doubled when the Pentagon this month acknowledged there were 60 allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and other sexual misconduct made against JROTC instructors during the past five years.

“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 accompanying the new information.

“Sexual abuse or misconduct committed by a JROTC instructor cannot be tolerated, and our Subcommittee’s investigation is bringing this despicable behavior into greater focus and exposing the urgent need for improved oversight in the JROTC program,” he added.

In the Defense Department’s Nov. 3 response to lawmakers, officials noted that the number increased from 33 to 60 after the committee included allegations of abuse, harassment and other sexual misconduct in addition to assault.

About 500,000 students aged between 13 and 18 annually participate in military JROTC programs in around 3,500 high schools nationwide, though the Pentagon-run initiative has little oversight and minimal training for their instructors.

Schools are tasked with the burden of monitoring instructors — who are either retired or reserve officers or enlisted noncommission officers, who are not always required to have a college degree or teaching certificate — as well as investigating complaints against them, according to the Times.

“What we have learned from the department is truly alarming,” Maloney said at the national security subcommittee hearing Wednesday. “Our investigation has exposed that a lack of Pentagon oversight appears to have enabled the predatory behavior of some of the JROTC instructors. Any allegation of sexual assault, abuse or harassment in this program is one too many, and needs to be addressed.”

The Army experienced the highest number of allegations against JROTC instructors with 26 total, followed by 16 against Marine Corps JROTC instructors, all of which were substantiated. In the Navy’s program, there were 11 allegations, 10 of which were substantiated, as well as seven against Air Force JROTC program instructors, all of which were confirmed, according to the memo.

Of the substantiated allegations in the Army program, 24 instructors were decertified and one died by suicide, according to the report. For the Marines’ JROTC program, 15 of the instructors were decertified and one died by suicide. The 10 substantiated allegations in the Navy’s program, meanwhile, resulted in the instructors being decertified, and the same occurred for the seven allegations within the Air Force’s program.

The congressional memo states that the new data “may still not reflect the complete universe of allegations that have been made against JROTC instructors and reported to school, law enforcement, and military officials in the last five years,” as investigations of school district employees are conducted by local law enforcement and/or school officials. This means some school districts and law enforcement may choose not to release all information regarding the outcome of an investigation.

What’s more, the committee also received information that revealed that the military services do not consistently conduct in-person evaluations of their respective JROTC programs.

The Army reported that its U.S. Army Cadet Command “conducts accreditation inspections on an annual basis for one third of all programs,” while the Air Force holds “virtual unit assessments annually and on-site (in-person) unit assessments once every 3.3 years,” Lynch writes.

The Navy, meanwhile, has its JROTC area managers inspect each program “at least once every other academic school year,” and guest inspectors conduct off-site evaluations for the remaining Navy JROTC units. The Marine Corps holds the least oversight, only conducting official in-person visits once every two years.

During the subcommittee hearing, Pentagon and military officials said any allegation of sexual misconduct was unacceptable and promised improved oversight of the JROTC program, but they were unable to articulate exactly how they would do that.

“There is no place, no justification for the misconduct that has taken place within the JROTC program,” Thomas Constable, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for manpower and reserve affairs, told lawmakers. “The Department of Defense has an unwavering commitment to the safety and well-being of all JROTC participants and to holding personnel accountable for any misconduct.”

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