News Story of JROTC Cadet Abuse is Reminder for CAP
Posted on 07/13/2022 at 10:24 AM by Curt LaFond
If you ever wondered why CAP is so adamant about two-deep rules, this story from the NY Times is your answer.
Former students say military veterans who led J.R.O.T.C. classes in U.S. high schools fashioned themselves as mentors, then used their power to manipulate and abuse, per the Times.
Many of the usual demons in youth abuse scandals appear in this story: over-trust, lack of two-deep leadership, manipulation and grooming. Because we care for our cadets’ well-being, the CAP cadet community must take note and learn. It’s a hard read.
Over-Trust. People tend to grant adults of high status more trust than they would otherwise. The Catholic and Scouting abuse scandals famously reveal how supposed moral pillars of the community hid a monstrous side. Abusers use their esteem to their advantage. In this NY Times story, the abusive JROTC instructors were respected military retirees who too often were under-supervised and/or not subject to two-deep leadership practices. Two-deep only works when everyone — even people who hold important titles, wear medals earned in defense of the nation, or are personally respected — are bound by two-deep rules.
Activities Beyond Regular Events. If grooming and abuse occur in a youth program, activities on the margins of the main program contain the highest risk. In this story, abuse took place after the school day ended and over weekends, not during routine class periods. The story tells of JROTC instructors interacting with cadets in 1:1 situations behind closed doors, in private via social media, and via the phone. Adult leaders interacting with youth outside of the normal program space should be major warning signs.
Military Obedience. As leaders in a cadet organization with a military-style chain of command, the abusers’ rank had a part to play. Victims in this article tell of feeling obligated to come when summoned to special meetings with their officer and NCO instructors. Obedience comes first in a military-type organization. The rank system gave abusers more leverage than they otherwise would’ve had. Victims speak of the military dynamics contributing to their feeling “trapped.”
A Bigger Problem than Feared. The Times reports that teacher-student sexual misconduct in JROTC is 68 percent higher than is abuse occurring in the second-highest school-related category. The article suggests that unclear lines of accountability have a part to play. When two organizations hold power in a system, in this case JROTC headquarters and the local schools, safety can be compromised as one side assumes the other side is fulfilling a responsibility. In aviation, we know better. Airmen practice “positive control of the aircraft.” In passing the controls, the pilot declares, “You have the flight controls,” and the co-pilot responds, “I have the flight controls.” Here in these JROTC abuse cases, coordination for training and supervision seems to have been lacking.
Implications for CAP
We align our strategy for youth protection with guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The fundamental safeguard in that evidence-based system is two-deep leadership. We screen all adult volunteers, we’ve established clear rules, we train people on those rules, we monitor compliance, and promise reporters will not face retaliation, all per the CDC guidelines.
If I could add an extra dose of precaution in that regimen, I’d add more monitoring by everyone in the system — leaders, peers, cadets, parents, and CAP-USAF partners. Robust monitoring of how CPP actually plays-out at real cadet activities in the field seems to be what counts the most in building an environment that is actually safe and not merely theoretically safe. Some questions you and your local unit can ask yourselves about your monitoring practices include:
Two-Deep Leadership. Do we consistently practice two-deep leadership at all cadet activities, from start to finish? Have there been instances where an adult finds himself solo with a cadet, such as at the end of a meeting? When sensitive conversations require some privacy, are they nevertheless conducted with a third person present or an open-door environment?
Screening. When new adults enter the unit, do we ensure they are fingerprinted, screened, and cleared by NHQ right away, or do we allow unscreened people sustained access to cadets? Do we interview prospective members using the First Talk Guide?
Wingman Program. Do cadets truly have an assigned wingman who watches out for them? If you ask a cadet who their wingman is and when, for example, the wingman last had that drink of water on a hot day, how do they respond? Do we see examples of wingman actively looking out for their mates’ welfare?
Boundary Concerns. If we witness boundary concerns, do we actually correct that person who overstepped our standard practices? If you see Capt Jones driving Cadet Smith, solo, to and from a CAP event, do you call him on it? If Major Curry plays favorites with Cadet Spaatz, do you call her on it?
Command Responses. Are unit commanders consistent in upholding two-deep and other CPP rules or are certain “favorite” people over-trusted and exempt from those rules? Do commanders respond promptly to boundary concerns or allow single individuals to repeatedly violate CPP rules without comment? Does the commander adhere to CPP rules? Who is watching him or her?
We pose many of the questions above to seniors, cadets, and parents via the Annual Cadet Survey. The responses are encouraging but (of course) short of perfect. We can always improve.
The Future for Youth Protection. This NY Times story comes at a time when CDC experts are reviewing their guidelines for youth-serving organizations. CAP has been in touch with those experts and is keeping abreast of their work. When CDC updates their guidance to reflect the latest lessons learned, you can expect CAP to adjust the Cadet Protection Policy to match. We want always to meet or exceed the latest evidence-based standards for youth protection.
One topic we’re watching concerns how organizations should respond to complaints. In the Team USA Olympic system where “CPP” is known as “Safe Sport,” a committee-approach is used in resolving allegations of abuse and misconduct. I’m hoping that the CDC researchers examine that approach. Do committee systems respond more reliably and powerfully to Safe Sport (CPP) rule violations because that collective approach prevents a single individual from covering for a friend? Or do committee systems diffuse responsibility, making it even harder to respond productively to rule violations? Currently, CAP relies upon single individuals, commanders, to make decisions affecting CPP response. Research can tell us if that’s indeed the most reliable practice or if we ought to adopt the Team USA model.
If you care about cadets, you care for their safety. Thank you for taking time to read The NY Times article and this reaction to it. Most of all, thank you for speaking up for cadets. That’s what leaders do.
- Curt LaFond
Director of Cadet Programs