Alana Pono shares her story about sexual harassment


Anjani Kedia

Alana Pono holds up a note card saying, “Speak Up,” to symbolize her actions after being sexually harassed Oct. 13. Photo illustration by Anjani Kedia.

It was 5:10 a.m. when Alana Pono woke up to start her day, get dressed, eat breakfast and leave for school at 7 a.m.

Although her day followed her regular routine, it would end with Pono feeling restless, anxious, and unsafe at school.

“Right after performing [in the lunch time activity Oct. 13] that day I went to my last block, Mrs. [Denae] Moore’s regular english class, where we were asked to split into groups based on if we had read ‘The Great Gatsby’ or not. I hung out with my friend in the back of the room, reading over the task we had to do. Suddenly he came up to me and asked if he could see my glasses. At first I said no because people always ask me to try on my glasses and I’m always afraid they might break them. However he kept insisting, so to make him stop pestering me, I handed my glasses over. I asked maybe three times to get them back but he wouldn’t take them off. I didn’t want to go anywhere without my glasses because again, I didn’t want them to break or anything. So I stood next to him and kept asking, but more demandingly. I got a little angry and reached out to grab them off him, but he dodged my hand and started saying how feisty I was. Then [out of nowhere] he started to say sexual things to me like ‘Sit on my lap’ and ‘You want this’ while referring to his crotch area. The people I were with told me to not touch him because he had STDs. I didn’t really know if people were joking or not, but he played along saying it was ‘only STD’s’ in a sarcastic manner. I declined [to sit on his lap] because it was weird and uncomfortable for me. However he insisted again and I kept saying no,” Pono said.

Pono continued to reflect on her experience.

“I should of walked away at that point but for some stupid reason I didn’t. He asked me again sit in his lap and I shook my head, [but this time] he tried to physically put me in his lap. He reached for my arm and my side, but I jumped back, slapping his hands away. After that people their just laughed, and I was so mad at that point that I just walked away. I tried to stay far away from him for the rest of the day, engaging myself in the tasks more and actually doing work,” Pono said.

This event left Pono feeling a disarray of emotions and guilt.

“I felt really uncomfortable and anxious. But at the same time, I was really angry. I couldn’t believe what had just happened since it went by so quickly. The only reaction I had was pure shock which then turned to anger, fear and confusion. I didn’t know what to do after we got out of that class. He acted like nothing even happened. I was really scared to go to school and specifically that class the next week,” Pono said.

The bystanders who stood by and added humor to this situation increased Pono’s insecurities regarding the situation. “I was afraid that my classmates would hate me because he is pretty popular, and I was afraid he would spread rumors about me if I told someone about this. I [initially] told my close friends about this and she told me it was sexual harassment and this was not okay. When I told my parents, they were so angry, especially my dad. That made me even more scared because I didn’t realize how serious this thing was. It was my first time ever being encountered like that by a male and I never really connected or even thought about connecting the interactions I had with him to sexual harassment. It all happened kind of quickly and I guess I didn’t really process exactly what he did to me. I soon realized that when he reached out to touch me, it was wrong. The few friends that I did tell were really shocked and worried, I was uncomfortable with people knowing what had happened. I cried a lot to them because I was scared, but my best friend Emily Griffin and my parents encouraged me to tell a teacher so that it could be reported. I went to Mr. [Jason] Knowles since I felt comfortable telling him about it, and later that day I had to go meet with the assistant vice principal and tell him exactly what happened and I had to write out a referral explaining everything that happened,” Pono said.

According to the student handbook, the Board of Trustees prohibits sexual harassment of any student by another student, an employee or other person, at school or at a school-sponsored activity. For students in grades four through 12, disciplinary action may include suspension and/or expulsion. Administrative Procedure 5145.7 states that prohibited sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Types of conduct which are prohibited in the district and which may constitute sexual harassment include, but are not limited to: unwelcome sexual flirtations or propositions, sexual jokes, stories, drawings, pictures, or gestures and purposefully cornering or blocking another student’s normal movements.

“Knowles and the assistant vice principal said they would do something about it and make sure he gets monitored, a punishment since what he did isn’t allowed. We did get monitored in class for one day, but I didn’t get moved away from him or anything. I had to watch out by myself and overall I didn’t feel like anything was seriously done to him for punishment, but I have no say since the teachers and people I reported it to didn’t say exactly what they’d do to him. I was just told that ‘something would be done about this.’ [I think] it was something to do with his sport because he’s on the [varsity] football team,” Pono said.

Although there were precautions and actions taken against Pono’s harasser, seeing him on a daily basis, in the same class, in the same seat and with the same people reminds Pono of her insecurities regarding her safety.

“The few class periods after that Friday it happened, he obviously got in some kind of trouble because he would pass me in class and mumble under his breath that I was a liar. I remember one time when the bell was about to ring at the end of the day, he said, ‘You’re such a liar,’ and threw a crumpled piece of paper at my face. I had to ignore it and endure it. Days after that, I stayed far away from him just in case. I just have to hope that he got enough punishment and that it changed the way he thinks, acts or speaks. Because what he did is unforgivable,” Pono said.

Pono accepts that she could have walked away from the situation and prevented it, however she believes this has led her to be more alert and cautious of people around her. She has learned from her mistake and continues hoping that he has learned from his. “I felt somewhat guilty for telling [the administration]. I felt like I was making a big deal over nothing and starting drama that wasn’t needed. But after some thought, I realized what I did was the right thing. It affected me in a way that I can’t really trust people as easily as before. I always doubt the intentions of people even if they’re just trying to be nice. Anyone who does something to make someone else feel uncomfortable anywhere, whether on campus or behind closed doors, should be reported no matter what,” Pono said.

Pono took the necessary actions following this situations and made sure that there would be consequences. Although she was not moved out his class and has to face him every day, this event will continue to serve as a remind for feeling unsafe. The actions of an individual, intentional or not, can heavily impact others. Some might view this as a minor event and claim that it caused Pono no physical harm, but they do not have to deal with the fear she feels every time she’s near him, they do not have to deal with the overwhelming recollection of how uncomfortable she was in that situation and they do not have to deal with the self-doubt she experienced for weeks following her harassment.