#MeToo: Iris Perez’s Battle for Justice
Counselors are supposed to be someone who you can trust with your feelings. They are supposed to be a figure who you can confide in to overcome difficult obstacles in your life. You depend on them to help you heal, manage stress, and achieve your goals. Due to the supportive and accommodating nature of most counselors, you certainly don’t expect them to take advantage of you.
Iris Perez is a 19 year old psychology student at Consumnes River College in Sacramento, California. To tackle unspecified emotional problems, she met with the school crisis counselor, Hoyt Fong, on a weekly basis in the Fall of 2017. The student noted that the sessions ending with a hug between the two soon became tradition.
Ultimately, Fong betrayed Perez when he kissed her on the mouth following one of their meeting in January of this year. The counselor apologized for his action and embraced Perez again when she pulled away.
“It was a shock.” Perez recalls of the incident to the Sacramento Bee. “I didn’t know how to react. I was frozen. I tried to brush it off, just to get out as fast as I could. ... When I was getting into my car it all hit me at once and then that’s when I started crying. It was unbelievable.”
Perez took action against Fong by telling her story to the Los Rios Community College District, which her school falls under. Additionally, she requested that the board members protect students from sexual harassment by creating stronger policies. The affected student is now advocating for the college district to handle sexual assault cases more strictly through investigations and appropriate punishments for the perpetrator.
Speaking about the emotional trauma she endured, Perez revealed ““I was putting a lot of a trust into this person and saying a lot of personal things that were happening in my life,” she said. “… It made me question how trusting I should be with people.”
In response to Perez’s complaints, the Chancellor and several presidents of the colleges in the district agreed to reinforce the policy that prevents employees who resigns or retires during an ongoing investigation from being rehired. Furthermore, employees are required to undergo training for sexual harassment prevention and more measures are being taken towards investigations for these types of allegations.
Fong refused to cooperate with the investigation and as a result, resigned on January 2018 shortly after the student filed her complaint against him. Although the college district updated their policies on sexual harassment as a result of Perez’s story, they did not handle the situation well. In fact, following Fong’s resignation, officials from the school requested the student to withdraw her accusation.
“Sexual predators cannot be allowed to continue to have access to our students nor our employees once claims have been made, and especially if claims are substantiated.” Perez commented. She’s demanding the school to prioritize the student safety over legal, economic, and public perception affairs.
Perez decided not to withdraw the complaint. On July 2018, she filed a lawsuit against her former counselor Hoyt Fong, the Los Rios Community College District, and the Los Rios Federation of Teachers for brushing her sexual assault under the rug. According to the students lawsuit, the district made excuses for the perpetrator to reduce its accountability.
Overall, Iris Perez is courageous and strong for taking action against Hoy Fong and her school for attempting to cover up the sexual assault she endured. Educational institutions should always take the victims side instead of faculty who take advantage of their powers. Hopefully, the student ends up winning the case and finally gets justice from the trauma she endured.