JROTC at a high school in Blackman, Tenn.
JROTC at a high school in Blackman, Tenn.

LANGHORNE, Penn. (WOMENSENEWS) –When Shelby Hjorth joined the Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps four years ago at her Blackman, Tenn., high school, she was looking to gain leadership and discipline for the Navy career she hoped to pursue after graduation.

Though she’s all for gender equality, the military’s record on sexual assault and female enrollment have never bothered her.

“Everywhere you go, you still have to deal with sexual assault. There will always be that one person who doesn’t listen and will still do it,” said Hjorth, 19, over a Tumblr interview in July.

Female active duty enrollment in the military is still less than 15 percent.

In 2014, meanwhile, Department of Defense estimates of sexual assault rates between military service members dropped to around 4 percent for women, a sharp decline from conservative estimates of approximately14 percent in 2010.

For young women in pre-military programs, however, the problems and risks of working in the male-dominated military can seem far away.

Half of the 314,000 students enrolled in the Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps are female, according to various program websites.

None of the 10 young women interviewed for this article had trouble reconciling their gender equality ideals with that of the military.

Even though JROTC is designed as a recruitment tool, and 40 percent of participants one day join the military, students do not see correlation between their participation in the JROTC program and their approval, or disapproval, of how the military handles sexual assault cases.

Sara Banton joined her Richmond, Va., JROTC two years ago because she “wanted to be a part of something big and clubs and sports weren’t big enough,” said the 16-year-old in an email interview.

Banton, who doesn’t consider herself a feminist, but does believe in “equal treatment of the genders,” isn’t bothered by the statistics.

She sees JROTC and the military as two separate entities. She does recognize the hard work ahead of her if she goes on to join the Navy one day, as she hopes to do. “Since women were admitted into the military long after men were, we will always have to work a little harder to be in the same positions of authority as men in the military,” said Banton in an email interview.

While regular activities of JROTC include physical activity and the teaching of military ideals, those young women interviewed for this article see it as an entirely separate experience from what goes on at a military base.

“It doesn’t feel like the military at all,” said Banton. “Even when we’re doing PT and drill, it doesn’t feel anything like the real military would. We’re still kids.”