Pentagon officials acknowledged on Wednesday that they had inadequately supervised the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as dozens of military veterans who taught in U.S. high schools were accused of sexually abusing their students.
Speaking before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about military recruitment, the officials said they had begun discussing how to increase oversight of the program after a New York Times article detailed how instructors, who are retired military members, appeared to sexually abuse students at a higher rate than traditional teachers did.
“We completely agree that additional oversight is necessary,” said Stephanie Miller, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, adding that the military branches have been reviewing how to better supervise the program. “We also think that we need to take a hard look at our current background investigation process,” she added.
Responding to questions from Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a representative of the Air Force was explicit about the branch’s failures in overseeing its instructors.
“There’s very little oversight in the Air Force right now,” said Lt. Gen. Caroline Miller, a deputy chief of staff for the Air Force.
General Miller said regional leaders of the Air Force J.R.O.T.C. program had failed to provide yearly assessments of the instructors as required because not enough people were assigned to the task. To provide additional oversight, she said, the Air Force was looking at adding more regional leaders and using National Guard personnel and military reservists.
Founded more than a century ago, the military’s J.R.O.T.C. program now operates in thousands of schools, annually teaching a half-million students about military history and military drills. Some cadets and public school administrators say the program is a way to impart discipline and life skills, while the military receives the recruiting benefit of introducing teenagers to the armed forces.
The Times investigation detailed how the military certifies instructors — typically retired veterans with lengthy careers in the armed forces — but then takes a hands-off approach, largely letting school districts oversee the instructors they employ. J.R.O.T.C. programs often operate on the fringes, with instructors operating as mentors and leading extracurricular activities off campus or outside normal school hours.
The Times found 33 instructors who were criminally charged with sexual misconduct involving students over a five-year period. In several of the cases that The Times examined, the instructors charged with misconduct had previously been the subject of complaints.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Ms. Warren cited the case of Dominique Mixon, who had accused her instructor of sexual assault in 2010, only to have her case go unresolved until a second victim came forward with similar allegations years later.
Last month, congressional investigators in the U.S. House opened their own examination of the J.R.O.T.C. program, asking Pentagon officials for information about the extent of reported misconduct and how those allegations are handled. On Wednesday, four Democratic senators on the Armed Services Committee sent letters to the Pentagon and the Education Department with more questions about the program.
“Each act of misconduct by the instructors, particularly those negative acts related to a vulnerable and extremely impressionable population, leaves a stain on the military,” the senators wrote.