Story by Georgia Parsons & Quinn Manzo
Associate Feature Editor & Staff Writer
Illustration by Tarry Song
Associate Design Editor
SPHS alumni Bella Kan: “This happened in April of my junior year. [A former faculty member] was gone all week for Virtual Business, so [a district employee] was substituting. [It was on a] Friday, it also happened to be senior ditch day, and we were a very senior-heavy class. I was doing some work on the computer when [he asked me] if my elbows were pointy. I went over to where he was sitting because I thought I had misheard him. He asked again. I was really confused. He had previously been the student teacher in one of my class[es] and while we weren’t close or anything, we had joked around in the class. But, he had never asked anything like this. I hesitantly responded, ‘I think so. I’m not really sure,’ and then he proceeded to inspect them quickly [and say], ‘yes, they are!’ [Then he] asked if I could give him a back massage. At this point my mind kind of went blank. I was really uncomfortable and unsure of what to say. I started to [massage him] really lightly with my elbow. He was sitting at one of the tables with his head down and I was standing behind him. Then, [he] started asking me to go harder, while the rest of the class was looking over and staring. Half of us, myself included, [were] laughing. I, at least, was laughing because I didn’t know what else to do. I felt uncomfortable and I just wanted to get out. Throughout this he was also making noises similar to moaning. One of my classmates suggested counting down. I don’t remember the reasoning [they] gave [him], but I think it was so that I could leave. He started counting, but then stopped: ‘5, 4, 3… 3… 3… 3,’ which was weird. I finally left and he had a then-freshman do the same thing.”
Kan reported the incident to the school a few days later.
“[The SPHS administration] handled it really poorly. I talked to [one administrator] first. She was sympathetic, but when I showed her the video that someone had taken [of the event]; she made a comment on how good my hair looked… [and] she told me that [another administrator] would call me in. The thing was, she never did. I had to go to her. This was one of the most frustrating parts of the whole experience. It was difficult to go to administration because I knew what [that district employee] did was wrong, but it was not a black and white situation. I felt that they did not take it seriously and I had to be the one to make the effort. When I went to [the other administrator] and asked about it, she said that she couldn’t discuss any repercussions or if they had even talked to [that district employee] about the ordeal because it was a ‘personal issue.’ I never got any answers from the administration about what happened.”
When Tiger contacted administration for comment, they were unable to speak to this specific incident, but directed us to the policies they have in place which we discuss later in part three. Even with these policies in place, Kan didn’t feel it was enough.
A survey published by Tiger found that there are several students at SPHS who have endured similar experiences to Kan. The survey asked the SPHS student body about their experiences with sexual misconduct and their opinions of how administration handles sexual misconduct on campus. Out of 91 student responses, 44.1 percent reported that they had been sexually harassed and 25.3 percent sexually assaulted.
Throughout the survey, many students expressed their exasperation with administration for either taking too long to act or letting the harasser off with little to no punishment, often both. Some of these stories are listed below in part four.
According to the results of the Tiger survey, for every one student who reported their assault, 23 did not. For every 10 students who reported their harassment, 32 did not. Out of those who reported their harassment to the administration, 80 percent of the responders felt that their aggressor was not appropriately held accountable and 50 percent felt they were not taken seriously.
Kan sought out support from Natasha Prime, the school’s social worker, who helped her figure out what had happened to [the district employee] after the incident. Kan’s understanding is that [the district employee] was suspended for a couple of weeks during the summer, an outcome Ms Prime felt was insufficient. (Administration was unable to verify this punishment, but said her understanding was not accurate.) Yet, [the district employee] is currently coaching at SPHS.
On a scale of one to five, 59.3 percent of South Pasadena students and alumni that completed Tiger’s sexual misconduct survey ranked SPHS administration a two and below on holding sexual aggressors accountable. In addition, 89.9 percent marked SPHS administration three and below on providing emotional support to the victims.
The culture surrounding sexual misconduct, along with administration, is an important factor that suppresses the voices of survivors. Administration’s perceived lack of punishment towards aggressors feeds into rape culture on campus. By setting a perceived precedent of little or no punishment for aggressors, administration is downplaying the impact that sexual misconduct has on the student body as well as the social and mental well-being of the survivor.
The ineffectiveness of administration has contributed to the growth of Instagram pages like @wewillnotbesilenced and @dearsouthpas amid Los Angeles area high school sexual assault controversies that took place this summer. The accounts, which had been taken down several times and ultimately became inactive, shared the stories of sexual assault survivors, often tagging the perpetrator in an effort to spread awareness.
Some may argue that sharing one’s story about being sexually harassed on social media is unproductive, but it is unfair to look down on a student who is seeking support in the only place they feel they can get it.