Legal Updates – February 2023


By:  Claire Sweetman

Report Finds Rampant Sexual Harassment and Abuse in High School Military Leadership Program

In July 2022, the New York Times concluded its five-year investigation into the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) – a military-run leadership program designed to instill U.S. military values in American high schoolers.[1] The investigation, which included an examination of “thousands of court documents investigative files, and other records obtained through more than 150 public disclosure requests,” uncovered dozens of instances of sexual misconduct throughout the program.[2] The investigative report found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been criminally charged with sexual misconduct involving students.[3] This did not include the “many others” who had been accused of misconduct but never charged.[4] Victims in the investigation reported experiencing sexual assaults in classrooms and supply closets, during field trips or on late-night rides home, sometimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs provided by their instructors.

The New York Times’ investigation prompted the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security to undertake its own review of the JROTC program.[5] In November, the Department of Defense reported to the Committee that the number of sexual assault allegations was much higher than 33, as the New York Times previously discovered—it was double. 60 instructors in the JROTC program had been accused of sexual misconduct within the past five years.[6] Of those 60 allegations, 58 were substantiated, according to a congressional memo released in November 2022 by the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s majority staff.[7]

Chairman of the Committee’s national security subpanel, Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), said in a statement accompanying the new information:

“Sexual abuse or misconduct committed by a JROTC instructor cannot be tolerated, and our Subcommittee’s investigation is bringing this despicable behavior into greater focus and exposing the urgent need for improved oversight in the JROTC program.”[8]

Approximately 500,000 students aged 13-18 annually participate in military JROTC programs in around 3,500 high schools nationwide.[9] However, the Pentagon-run initiative has received little oversight and minimal training for its instructors. Instead, schools themselves bear the burden of monitoring instructors—who are either retired or reserve officials or enlisted noncommission officers, who are not always required to have a college degree or teaching certificate. Schools were also, before now, responsible for investigating complaints against the instructors.

One of the women interviewed as part of the Times’ investigation, Jacey Antokoletz, described her experience with being sexually abused by her JROTC instructor when she was a high school junior in Brewster, New York.[10] She said regarding the Committee’s inquiry:

“I’m glad that they’re hammering down so hard on it. I’m happy to be part of coming forward so that more attention can be drawn to the issue, but it really is unfortunate that it took the article coming out to even address that this is going on.”

Federal Court Blocks Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act”

A federal judge in Florida partially blocked a law designed to limit the discussion of racism and privilege in schools and workplace training within the state.[11] The law, previously known as the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” (“Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees”), has been renamed the “Individual Freedom Act.”[12] The Act, which was backed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, took effect in July, 2022.[13]

The Act prohibits schools and workplaces from providing any instruction that suggests that any individual, by virtue of their race, color, sex or national origin “bears responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” on account of historical acts of racism.[14] The Act also bans education or training that says that individuals are “privileged or oppressed” due to their race or sex.[15]

In August 2022, a group of eight Florida professors and a student sued representatives of the state’s higher education system, arguing that the Act constituted “racially motivated censorship” which was aimed at stifling “widespread demands to discuss, study and address systemic inequalities.”[16]

In a 139-page order issued on November 17, 2022, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker criticized the Republican-led bill and blocked it from taking effect in the state’s public universities. Said Judge Walker: “The State of Florida’s decision to choose which viewpoints are worthy of illumination and which must remain in the shadows has implications for all. But the First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and case us all into the dark.”[17]

Judge Walker began the order by reciting the first sentence of George Orwell’s 1984: “‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,’ and the powers in charge of


[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.


[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.



[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.