Students Amplify Voices After Schools Fail to Address Growing Sexual Assault Reckoning

“Rapists do not belong at prom!”

“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Gender violence has got to go!”

About 70-80 students and their supporters belted out these and other chants as they walked along Los Gatos’ N. Santa Cruz Avenue as part of the Survivor Solidarity March and Rally on Aug. 10, the Los Gatan first reported.

Once gathered at Town Plaza Park, speakers focused their ire on what they characterized as Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District’s inaction on sexual assault reports.

Addressing the crowd, Abbi Berry, a co-founder of From Survivors For Survivors, reflected on how her anger at the unmet need to hold abusers and enablers accountable helped inspire 160 Los Gatos High School students to share their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment on the Instagram account @metoo.losgatos.

“I felt empowered by survivors to speak up and challenge the systemic rape culture that I knew had been around for too long,” Berry said. “People are still talking about the shockwaves we sent through the town. This team—our movement—did a lot.”

But, she says, it also took a toll.

“We had parents calling and yelling at us; moms texting their friends, slut-shaming survivors, begging their friends to take their sons’—their abusers’—side,” she said. “We lost friends and teachers. At times we abandoned our emotional well-being for this fight.”

Alaina Fox, the former editor-in-chief of the Los Gatos High School newspaper El Gato, says she’s experienced that foul language from a parent, but her criticisms were instead directed at the lack of action from district administrators—specifically the advisor she says continually shut down attempts by reporters to bring these problems to light.

In an interview, the recent grad said both an editorial on failings of sexual assault education and a staffer’s pitch for a story on assault were vetoed. Additionally, their journalism teacher refused to let students write about a case already proceeding in the courts.

“I ran into censorship time and time again,” Fox said. “We’re really just asking for the basic, bare minimum. It seems like some sort of outside help is needed.”

District Superintendent Michael Grove didn’t address the controversy directly when asked, but said the school system wants to make sure students feel free to express themselves. He admits the process isn’t always perfect, but asserts staff provides resources and guidance for students to “lead the decision-making in the student newsroom” and “maintain journalistic integrity to ensure the pursuit of truth based on facts.”

But during her poetry-tinged speech, Fox said she sees a pattern of punishment for anyone trying to highlight problems at her former school.

“The goal wasn’t to make things better,” Fox said. “The goal was to avoid having to deal with us. The culture has yet to change, but we have changed. … We refuse to burn out.”

Isabella Pistaferri, a recent graduate of Palo Alto’s Henry M. Gunn High School, detailed how her own troubling experiences with the Title IX sex assault reporting process led her to co-found the school’s “Hands-Off IX” club.

She says when she initially reported a sexual assault to a Gunn wellness counselor but had to leave to take a test, she was told she’d be called back to make a more extensive report, but then never was—an account confirmed by documents. Pistaferri says she was frustrated with how she was treated by their former Title IX coordinator, Megan Farrell, who now does this work for the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union School District.

“The first thing Ms. Farrell said to me when she saw me was I reminded her of an Italian model—a seemingly inappropriate comment to make to a vulnerable 16-year-old girl on behalf of an educator,” she told the crowd, claiming Farrell even answered her phone as Pistaferri was trying to officially report sex abuse.

In a September 2019 email to the Pistaferri family provided to Los Gatan, Farrell offered to connect the families—attempting to achieve an informal resolution with the boy Pistaferri says abused her, even though she made it clear she wasn’t interested in mediation.

“They would like to speak with you and perhaps clear the air,” Farrell wrote.

In the email, Farrell described the request from the boy’s family as “genuine and heart-felt,” which Pistaferri says made her feel like the Title IX coordinator was taking the boy’s side.

In an email interview, when asked about the “Italian model” comment, “informal resolution” email and formal complaint Pistaferri subsequently filed, Farrell said she isn’t able to comment on the case, citing student confidentiality.

But on Feb. 23, Palo Alto Union High School District Deputy Superintendent Trent Bahadursingh sent a letter to Pistaferri saying the Palo Alto-based Marek Law Firm investigated her Dec. 7 grievance.

According to Bahadursingh, the investigation found evidence that “Farrell made this [Italian model] comment as part of an effort to make you feel more comfortable,” and she didn’t silence her phone because she was monitoring updates about the health of her mother, whose call Farrell later answered.

The investigation also found evidence that Farrell and former Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks incorrectly claimed the school had already investigated the complaint and determined that no policy violation had occurred. Bahadursingh told Pistaferri that Gunn administrators “did not take adequate steps” to protect her from continued harassment.

Yet, Grove confidently defended Farrell’s hiring to assist the district’s Title IX training, compliance, and investigation. He says the district is “firmly committed” to addressing sexual harassment and assault, including the district’s work revising Title IX policies, updating its extracurricular code of conduct, approving a confidential tip line and bringing in restorative practices to resolve conflicts.

“Unfortunately, this is a deeply-rooted social ill in our broader culture and there are no quick fixes globally, nationally, or locally,” Grove said. “Our district is committed to ensuring that our campuses are safe and supportive environments.”

40 Comments

  1. “Unfortunately, this is a deeply-rooted social ill in our broader culture and there are no quick fixes globally, nationally, or locally,” Grove said.

    It really starts with our elected officials. If they can’t/ won’t address sexual assault, it makes sense that our school districts would do the same.

    We should be allowed to talk about it. The school district and the District Attorney’s office should be on the same page. My children are being sexually abused. My former attorney used the information to secure $80,000 in gold coins. When I tried to report the sex trafficking and fraud involved, I was assaulted, harassed, and abused in the legal system.

    yelp.com/biz_photos/valerie-r-houghton-lmft-san-jose-2?select=djlR-OukLOZPTLUfsghwXA

    The District Attorney’s Office is supposed to set the lead. Instead the DA is trying to have me deemed mentally incompetent. They have the legal mandate to protect children and to not facilitate sexual assault.

    yelp.com/biz_photos/valerie-r-houghton-lmft-san-jose-2?select=QAYSgVDdNqYn7uMwJqDetQ

    Every person has a right to be heard. Everyone should be able to report violent crimes and sexual abuse without the fear of reprisal.

  2. I told my two attorneys that my ex was letting an adult man molest my 13 year old son. I also told the supervisor for visitation. The two attorneys mostly ignored me. The supervisor for visitation called me “neurotic” and wouldn’t let me talk to my son about it.

    At the next hearing my ex not only agreed to disclose that she had hidden $130,000 worth of gold coins, but also agreed to divide them. I was in complete shock. No one even mentioned that it was a possibility before the hearing. I never thought that I would see those coins again because my ex was so greedy.

    We each got $25,000 worth. The remaining $80,000 went to my attorney to be held in trust.

    I fired the the two attorneys after that. The attorney went on to represent my ex without disclosure to me and I was subsequently cut out of my children’s lives.

    I was able to confirm that my son had indeed been molested because he recently turned 18. I have not been able to see my other 3 kids in over 7 years, so I don’t know for sure if it also happened to them.

    Now the attorney says that I need to make amends for all the lost business by submitting to an evaluation that she will tamper with. Does this sound like something that the DA should be involved in?

  3. There should be consequences for hiding and facilitating the sexual abuse of children.

    None of them should fall on the person trying to report the sexual assaults.

    How do we expect that our children will be protected in the future with this kind of attitude.

  4. Our laws are supposed to be a reflection of what we value as a society.

    We can’t have it both ways.

    Laws against sexual assault lose their effectiveness when we look the other way.

    Discretion can be used for some crimes, such as drug offences. There are even times when even murder can be justified, such as when it is used in self defense.

    Laws against the sexual abuse of children should be absolute. It should never be tolerated, especially by our leaders.

  5. The District Attorney’s Office is supposed to keep us safe. They are not supposed to act as anyone’s private defense attorney.

    They don’t just do it to my kids with their actions. They do it to every child in our community.

  6. Does it make sense that someone should have their kidneys, liver, and heart damaged because they don’t want their kids sexually assaulted?

    Does it make sense that someone should spend 4 days in jail because they don’t want to give up on their kids?

    Do you live in the County of Santa Clara or the County of the Karachi?

  7. This isn’t the first that this county covers up sexual assaults against children.

    mercurynews.com/2021/06/12/court-docs-victim-says-santa-clara-county-knew-of-juvenile-counselor-rape-years-before-he-was-exposed/

    Who knows how many Sandusky’s, Cosby’s and Ghislane Maxwell’s we have in our county?

    These people would thrive in our county.

  8. Although three of my other kids have shown strong signs of being sexually abused, I cannot confirm it because I have not seen them in over 7 years. I asked the Family Court Judge to tell me why I could not contact them. He spent several minutes on his computer, but could not provide me with an answer of any kind. I was able to see my adult son shortly thereafter. I told him to go report the molestation to the police. About a week and half later the Family Court Judge filed an order on his OWN ACCORD that I could only have supervised visitation with my adult son.

    It’s not fair to my kids. They cannot defend themselves.

    The attorney did what she did. Why must my children and I be forced to pay the price?

  9. I asked the District Attorney’s Office to enroll me into Cal-WRAP. If the proceeding against mes were creating an incentive to assault me, I believed that it was their duty to protect me.

    I told them that the Ms. Houghton was trying to pressure me to retain an attorney so that said attorney could raise a doubt.

    Detailed information about what happened to my son, as well as the strong indications of other molestation that I observed were also provided.

    I also provided police reports, names of two ER doctors, social media posts from the attorney that I was directed to view, and other information.

    Not only was I completely ignored, but after I refused to retain an attorney, the DA’s Office went ahead and raised a doubt themselves.

  10. The DA’s Office brought up three different reasons as to why they were raising a doubt:

    1. They said that I had “imaginary paternity” for my youngest daughter. At the time that they had a statement from the mother saying that I was indeed the father. They also knew that the mother came to family court and agreed to my motion for paternity. Don’t forget that they had the evidence that the custodial father previously drugged and raped a teen.

    2. They said that I was homeless – but the DA’s Office knew that I was ordered to live off of $300 – $500 a month. They also knew that the attorney was harassing me at every job. https://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/valerie-r-houghton-lmft-san-jose-2?select=tFc5ctx1_t6nY9Kh0TpYcQ

    3. They mentioned that I reported being assaulted. Please see the post just prior to this one.

    The worst part was that two judges had already ruled that the DA’s Office did not have the authority to raise a doubt, but that didn’t stop them from doing it at a third consecutive hearing.

  11. The last thing that the DA should be doing is punishing someone for reporting child abuse.

    Children are the most vulnerable members of the community. When children are abused, they typically defend themselves going along with it. They rely on the adults to protect them.

  12. It is a basic human instinct to want to protect your children.

    No one deserves to go to jail or be poisoned for having that.

  13. The DA’s Office should be more concerned with the reality of children being sexually abused, rather than the false appearance that an attorney is innocent of misconduct.

    I have provided many details to numerous agencies and relevant people. There is no benefit to continue in such a manner.

  14. “It is never painless to charge someone in the justice system with a crime. But no one is above the law. Period. ”

    facebook.com/rosenforda/posts/10160609080244179

  15. He writes “keep the children safe” as he lets my children be sexually abused.

    What a phony person.

    facebook.com/rosenforda/posts/10160555186304179

  16. Here is the latest social media post that I was directed to view:

    yelp.com/biz_photos/valerie-r-houghton-lmft-san-jose-2?select=QT71CMtAUwzzmSoBGkNJMg

    Why would the attorney have any fear of repercussions for behaving violently?

  17. He is supposed to go by the law. The law dictates that we are all equal.

    The DA doesn’t get to decide which children get raped.

    He doesn’t get to decide who can commit crimes.

  18. He gets paid more than any other government worker in our county because he has the most important job,

    If he can’t perform basic tasks, such as protecting children, then he should not be the District Attorney.

  19. I told him in 2014 what was happening to my kids.

    He knew about my daughter and the poisonings for almost 2 years.

    But he didn’t give a care.

    He opposed my motion to get a DNA test, raised a doubt, and left out exculpatory evidence – all to cover the crimes of his friends.

  20. The Board of Supervisors won’t do anything to help. No one will.

    The voters will end up re-electing a man protect us who supports criminals.

    That’s how politics works. It’s about the team. The rest of us don’t count.

  21. Here is a perfect example:

    A track coach was sexually abusing high school students, but the school failed to do anything about it. The school ignored the all the complaints.

    “In 2012, the mother of another student allegedly reported to the school’s then-principal Traci Williams that she had heard rumors that Robinson was involved in a sexual relationship with Jane Doe. Despite the potential danger he posed, the suit states that the district failed to take appropriate actions like alerting authorities or conducting an investigation. Robinson was permitted to continue coaching young female athletes.”

    mercurynews.com/2021/09/13/woman-sues-east-union-high-school-district-alleging-track-coach-sexually-abused-her-and-officials-were-alerted/

    Why would the school do something if our own District Attorney doesn’t have an absolute stance against it?

  22. I keep asking the Board of Supervisors for assistance. view it here: ktvu.com/video/977719

    Mr. Simitian criticized the Sheriff’s Department in an interview that aired today. He said that negligence by the department “destroyed a man’s life.”

    Why doesn’t he care about the negligence that occurred in my case? Not only has my health been “destroyed,” but my kids are being put at risk for sexual abuse.

    He has known about this situation since 2017.

    Why am I being ignored?

  23. I filed complaints directly with County Counsel, as well as through the Santa Clara County Whistle-blower program. Said complaints were filed several months ago, but I have not received a response of any kind.

    No family in our county should have to experience this.

    I have again asked Mr. James Williams directly for a response. Hopefully, he will respond soon.

  24. The concept of self control pertains to the systematic arrangement of behaviors and consequences. When behaviors become contiguous with money, those behaviors become more likely to occur in the future.

    When the District Attorney, Board of Supervisors, and County Counsel draw a salary while looking away, it affects their job performance.

    While I was begging the DA for protection from the physical assaults, he tried to poison an innocent man himself. While correlation does not mean causation, the fact that it would even occur more than once is troubling.

    theappeal.org/jeff-rosen-santa-clara-da-attorney-general-death-penalty/

  25. They can chalk it up any way that they want.

    But the fact remains that by avoiding the hot seat and drawing a salary, they all gain benefit while children and parents are being put into harms way.

  26. Although there is always room for improvement, we have a good system.

    The Penal Code dictates if A happens, then B must occur.

    And that’s the way that it should be. That judge and attorney that I complained about should get whatever consequences are necessary for what he did to my kids. It would be a consequence that benefits the entire community.

    Instead the penal code is being changed by others to: if A happens, then A must continue to occur.

  27. The whole point of the Me Too movement was that one should be able to report sexual abuse without being retaliated against.

    I should have been able to talk to my son about it when he was 13.

    When I was finally able to do it because he became an adult, I told him to go to the police after he confirmed it.

    A week and a half later the judge filed a motion on HIS OWN ACCORD which only allowed supervised contact with my adult son.

  28. I can understand that corruption exists and that many times we need to ignore it because of its abundance. But when it comes to serious matters, a line needs to be drawn.

  29. I am sorry if I offended any government entity or politician by making serious complaints regarding important people.

    But they are my kids. I will always work to protect them.

  30. The Catholic Church allowed many priests to sexually abuse children. It was considered permissible to sexually assault children, as long as a priest was the one doing it. Said priests were allowed to operate outside the law. Kamala Harris has even been implicated in allowing this to occur. It wasn’t until the last 15 years that this exemption was removed.

    https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/victims-question-kamala-harris-record-clergy-abuse-63963167

    Our community would be best served by removing all remaining exemptions.

  31. If the DA’s Office wants to keep exemptions for attorneys, teachers, and other people, then they should lobby the legislature to include them as law. That way the community knows what to expect.

  32. Taxpayer monies are being used to pay for salaries, materials, electricity, and for other costs at the DA’s Office. I believe that if you surveyed taxpayers, most people would not want their money spent on helping sex traffickers cover up their crimes.

  33. My youngest daughter is under the custody of a man who previously drugged and raped a teen.

    The attorney says, “My child, my rules,” as well as “She’ll have fun.”

    Since I made complaints about said attorney, she went on to be the attorney of record for children in three other active cases. I found a court record online for one of the cases. One of the parents in that case made accusations of sexual abuse. That parent was lost custody and was ordered to have psychological treatment.

    I don’t know anything else about that case, but common sense dictates that this attorney should not be involved in cases when allegations of sexual abuse are made.

    Certainly, if my case was properly addressed by the District Attorney, it wouldn’t even be a question.

  34. I can understand payback and cover ups.

    But NO child deserves to be abused. Mr. Rosen is supposed to out his foot down and say, “Wrong number!”

    metroactive.com/features/dolores-carr-jeff-rosen.html

    The latest census shows that about 15% about 2,000,000 people in our count are children. That works out to about 300,000. Mr Rosen has been given a tremendous responsibility by our county the moment he was sworn in, but he is creating a terrible precedent by putting my children into harms way.

    datacommons.org/place/geoId/06085?utm_medium=explore&mprop=count&popt=Person&hl=en

  35. Here is an article published just today. It involves another case of sexual abuse in our county that was covered up by school administrators.

    “The ones who get punished are the ones protecting, not the ones abusing or covering up for the abuse,” said Jason Laker, a SJSU professor and previous whistleblower who sued the university for similar issues of covering up sexual harassment in the classroom.

    https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/09/21/sexual-harassment-san-jose-state-university-to-pay-1-6-million-to-athletes-inappropriately-touched-by-trainer/

  36. Gee Ben-z, could you possibly limit rhetoric to one or two paragraphs per article, After all it’s not all just about you.

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