At least 58 military instructors working in high schools across the US have committed sexual misconduct against students under their care in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, or JROTC.
According to a Pentagon internal review made at the request of Congress, investigators found that at least 60 high school students participating in JROTC programs had reported their instructors for sexual abuse, assault, or harassment to school officials or local law enforcement in the last five years.
Of those reports, the Pentagon found, all but two accusations were “substantiated” by law enforcement or school authorities. The abuse, officials said Wednesday in congressional testimony, occurred overwhelmingly between male instructors and girls in their programs.
Department of Defense officials reported the JROTC numbers to the House Subcommittee on National Security on Nov. 7 after a July investigation by The New York Times uncovered over 30 incidents of instructor abuse.
In a fiery hearing Wednesday, Nov. 16, Congress members tore into four Pentagon officials who oversee JROTC policies for the Army, Air Force, and Navy, demanding to know how the abuse went undetected by senior leaders until exposed in the media.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat this,” Rep. Jackie Speier told the officials. “This is a scandal and it’s one that each and every one of you need to take ownership of.”
Speier compared the JROTC report to sexual harassment and assault cases in the active-duty services such as the murder of Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood and a 2012 scandal at Air Force basic training in which almost 20 drill instructors were found to have sexually abused or assaulted over 40 female recruits.
In the Air Force basic training case, Speier noted, none of the Air Force women reported the abuse as it occurred, which she said suggested that many more cases may be undetected in JROTC programs.
“When you saw these cases coming up in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, why didn’t someone raise the alarm that there was a huge problem?” Speier asked the Pentagon officials. “In some respects, I feel we should just shut down this program until you can get it right. I don’t want another kid to be sexually harassed or assaulted, that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
The Pentagon oversees roughly 3,500 JROTC programs across all five armed services, about 70% of which are in so-called Title I schools, a federal designation for schools in low income and high poverty areas. About half of the programs are Army JROTC, and close to 900 Air Force JROTC.
JROTC is a high school training program funded and sponsored by the Department of Defense. Typically, a JROTC program will be led by two retired, former, or active-duty military instructors who teach classes on civics, leadership, and military history and oversee a number of JROTC-sanctioned extracurricular activities like physical fitness training, drill team, and color guard.
Though students who participate in JROTC programs can receive minor benefits if they join the military, the Pentagon does not treat JROTC as a recruiting program and participants are not members of the military.
All of the instructors found to have committed abuse, the Pentagon told the committee, have been decertified as instructors or are otherwise no longer teaching. Two committed suicide, according to the Pentagon.
In Wednesday’s hearing, the defense officials all said that the JROTC issues have the Pentagon’s full attention, though they offered few specific policy changes.
“In the Department of Defense, there is no place for the misconduct that has taken place in the JROTC programs,” said Thomas Constable, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness. “These actions are directly opposed to our core values and in no way represent the training and education received while serving in uniform.
“This issue has the highest attention across the highest levels of leadership.”
Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Yvette Bourcicot said that all Army JROTC instructors undergo background screening before being hired but acknowledged that the Army reviews programs with on-campus inspections only once every three years.
Both Constable and Bourcicot said the Army is reviewing its process for running background checks on JROTC instructors. Current Army JROTC instructors undergo a Child Care National Agency Check and Inquiries, which is used by most child care agencies.
Alex Wagner, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs, said that the Air Force also requires instructors to undergo the Child Care National Agency Check and Inquiries.
Wagner also said the Air Force was developing a plan to increase the number of women teaching JROTC. Currently, Wagner said, Air Force JROTC is made up of 40% women cadets but 92% male instructors.
Robert Hogue, the Navy’s acting assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, also took questions but offered few policy changes.
Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to reflect the specific background check used by the Army to vet JROTC instructors. All Army instructors undergo the Child Care National Agency Check and Inquiries background check.