Senators Warren, Sanders, Hirono Introduce Junior Reserve Officer Training Safety Act
Legislation Would Protect JROTC Recruits from Abuse, Forced Enrollment and Increase Oversight of Program
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee, and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, introduced the Junior Reserve Officer Training (JROTC) Safety Act of 2023 to better protect JROTC recruits following reports of program instructors sexually assaulting and harassing high school students. The legislation would also increase oversight of the agencies charged with running the program and prohibit mandatory enrollment of students into the program.
In December 2022, a New York Times investigation found that “dozens of schools have made the program mandatory or steered more than 75 percent of students in a single grade into the classes,” raising major concerns over the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Education’s (ED) oversight of the program. Earlier that year, another investigation found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been charged in criminal cases involving sexual misconduct.
“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,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “I’m glad to be partnering with Senators Sanders and Hirono to ensure accountability for schools that fail to report abuse in the program and increase oversight of our agencies in charge.”
“The reports of abuse, mistreatment, and compulsory enrollment in JROTC programs nationwide are deeply disturbing and must be addressed immediately,” said Senator Mazie Hirono. “JROTC students and their families should be able to trust that they will be safe and respected in the JROTC program, and this legislation will help ensure they can. I will continue working to ensure that the more than 500,000 students participating in JROTC programs across the country—and the students who follow—are safe and protected.”
Specifically, the JROTC Safety Act would mandate:
- Accountability for Schools that Fail to Report Abuse: Schools failing to report allegations of sexual assault and harassment allowed those instructors to stay in place and hurt other students. DoD must suspend any JROTC unit that fails to notify DoD and ED of allegations that an instructor sexually harassed or assaulted a JROTC student within 48 hours after the school received the allegation.
- Enhanced Reporting: Many survivors of sexual assault are afraid to come forward to report abuse. DoD must conduct climate surveys to better understand and address discrimination in JROTC programs;
- Clear Processes to Report Civil Rights Violations: There is not a clear and consistent understanding of JROTC students’ rights. DoD must 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;
- Standardized Annual Reports on Abuse: Until recent investigations, there has been no reporting to Congress or the public about known violations of students’ rights. DoD and ED must submit annual reports on discrimination and harassment in JROTC programs and the programs’ policies and compliance on preventing harassment and discrimination;
- An End to Mandatory Enrollment in JROTC: Investigations revealed schools have forced students to participate in JROTC. Under this bill, schools may not enroll students without informed consent and DoD must suspend units forcing students into JROTC; and
- Increased Oversight of Agency Efforts to Prevent Abuse: The Government Accountability Office must submit a report to Congress on the bill’s implementation and DoD and ED efforts to prevent sexual violence in JROTC.
The legislation is endorsed by Protect Our Defenders, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Service Women’s Action Network.
“Protect Our Defenders is committed to the safety and support of all servicemembers and those who look to serve our nation,” said Josh Connolly, Protect Our Defenders (POD) Senior Vice President, former Chief of Staff for Rep. Jackie Speier. “It is deeply troubling but not surprising to see the findings of hundreds of allegations of abuse and harassment. We must demand accountability and change as many of our future leaders start with JROTC. POD supports bicameral efforts to prevent future abuses under the JROTC Safety Act of 2023 and thanks Senator Warren for her work on this important legislation.”
“Sexual abuse and other forms of discrimination continue to be swept under the rug in Junior ROTC programs which perpetuates a harmful culture among the next generation of military leaders, well beyond ROTC,” said Emily Martin, NWLC’s Vice President for Education & Workplace Justice. “We’re glad Senator Warren is intervening with a bill that provides protections against discrimination and harassment, creates transparency and accountability at Junior ROTC programs, and requires the relevant government agencies to develop best practices for preventing and responding to harassment. The National Women’s Law Center is proud to support this bill and will continue to fight all forms of harassment in our schools and workplaces.”
“This bill is absolutely essential to making sure the Defense and Education Departments are helping to protect young students from being assaulted by instructors wearing the uniforms of our armed forces,” said Lorry Fenner (Colonel, USAF, Retired), Service Women's Action Network Director of Government Relations. “These instructors must be held accountable.”
As Chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Senator Warren has led extensive oversight efforts to hold the Department of Defense and the Department of Education accountable for their management of the JROTC program.
- In May 2023, Senators Warren and Hirono and Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), and Chrissy M. Houlahan (D-Pa.), applauded the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for launching a review of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program.
- On March 15, 2023, chairing her first hearing of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) highlighted the importance of addressing existing failures in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC).
- In February 2023, Senators Warren, Hirono, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), sent a letter to the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Education (ED) amid reports of students being forced to join the JROTC program.
- On September 23, 2022, during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Warren questioned top DoD personnel officials on disturbing reports of widespread patterns of sexual misconduct by instructors in the JROTC program, where they admitted DoD’s lack of adequate oversight to prevent sexual misconduct by instructors and ensure the safety of students.
- On September 21, 2022, Senator Warren, along with Senators Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Hirono (D-Hawaii), opened an investigation into the JROTC program, following reports of widespread patterns of sexual misconduct by instructors in the program.
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