Sexual Violence, Junior ROTC, and the US Military Industrial Complex

by Kirsten Adkerson

Here at SARC we get to be in peoples’ lives in unique ways. We get to hear peoples’ most vulnerable stories, their heartache, their fears. We also get to hear about survivors’ triumphs, their creativity, and their resiliency. Being able to be a reliable & judgement free person in a survivor’s life is an honor and one each of our advocates takes very seriously.

Bearing witness to so many stories of harm and injustice often leads advocates to knowing about social harms, the specific needs of communities, and required preventative work for a better future, before it hits the mainstream consciousness. It gives advocates more lenses to see trends, areas of concern, and the context that grew it. This has been seen time and time again in movements such as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Movement (MMIW), Black Lives Matter (BLM), and Me Too, each started by those most impacted by the harm and the advocates alongside amplifying their message.

With the recent article by the New York Time that “Thousands of Teens Are Being Pushed Into Military’s Junior R.O.T.C”, it seemed a good time to share a few lenses we are holding. As non-mandated reporters, our advocates get to work with youth who have been sexually assaulted and hold their experiences confidential. This means we get to address the shame, guilt, confusion, and fear that is often present, without taking away their autonomy in choosing who they tell and when. Advocates also can support service members, veterans, people with disabilities, and anyone else who may fear that their story may be told without their consent.

With that context of who we serve, it was sadly not a surprise when in July the New York Times published the article “I Felt Trapped’: Sexual Abuse of Teens in the Military’s J.R.O.T.C. Program” where it was shared how abuse was enacted on youth by instructors and the abysmal lack of structure to keep teens safe let alone the instructors accountable.  It was from this reporting that Democrat Representative of California, Jackie Speier, voiced “I’m not going to sugarcoat this: This is a scandal,” Ms. Speier said, later adding: “In some respects, I feel we should just shut down this program until you can get it right.” Yet, this country continues to funnel overwhelming BIPOC teens into this institution. An institution that only becomes graver as they complete high school and enter the military.

It was only through the recent passage of the $858,000,000,000 defense bill that the long overdue change to how reporting and handling of sexual assault cases within the military was finally approved. This intrinsic tying of survivors’ safety and justice to the funding of an institution that has systemically perpetuated sexual violence internationally and domestically, sends clear signals of what society values and prioritizes. It says safety for sexual assault survivors is contingent upon continued mega-overinvestment in the US’s military industrial complex. It echoes to those who abuse power that they are safe, because survivors must buy in to the system that hurt them to access safety and justice.

At SARC, we support survivors in their journey to healing and reclaiming autonomy. We know that survivors’ experiences are intersectional and complex, deserving of nuance and care. It is from this knowledge that we echo their stories and call on our community to hear them. We believe our youth should not be economically or racially drafted. We believe that youth should have agency both educationally and physically. That we can hold a both/and by calling for reform without tying this call to further financial investment of the military. We hold to our continued mission of promoting social justice on all aspects including support, advocacy, and education.