“My innocence was abruptly taken” – former Los Gatos High School track star
The first year of high school is always exciting, a sign that you’re almost a grown up who will soon be forging your own path in life.
That’s how sexual assault survivor “Jane Doe” felt when she joined the Los Gatos High School Girls’ Track team in 1998: the world was her oyster and her future was bright.
Today, Jane is anonymously suing the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District and two track coaches for the sexual abuse she endured for more than three years.
Her abuser was LGHS track coach Chioke Robinson who, Jane says, was enabled by the high school’s head track coach Willie Harmatz.
Robinson was hired for the 1998-1999 school year.
Jane had already distinguished herself in middle school, winning championships in the high jump, 100m hurdles and 4x4 relay.
She was doing well at LGHS, too, breaking the high school’s records for the 300m and 100m hurdles; she qualified for the state finals as a freshman.
And dreamed of becoming an Olympic athlete.
But Chioke Robinson destroyed that dream when he began grooming the then-14-year-old to accept his sexual advances. The red flags were there —Robinson often drove Jane home from school and singled her out for special attention, for example.
By the time she was a 15-year-old sophomore, Jane and Robinson were frequently engaging in oral sex and intercourse, often in the high school’s track shed.
Once, Robinson sexually assaulted Jane under a stairwell after a track meet at Gunderson High School in San Jose.
“Looking back, I realize now how young I was and how easily Robinson manipulated me,” Jane said. “He acted like he cared about me and loved me and needed me to the point where I actually believed that I wanted his love and affection.”
Jane had been transformed from a goal-oriented student-athlete to a confused teenager who was now in trouble academically.
Jane says Robinson used condoms during their sexual encounters but still made her take pregnancy tests, one of which Jane’s mother found in her trashcan, along with love letters Robinson wrote to Jane.
Her mother called police, who launched an investigation.
But Jane denied anything sexual had happened between them.
“I was heavily conditioned to defend Robinson and I did,” she said. “He had the foresight to know he’d get caught at some point, so he told me not to admit anything to the cops because he could go to jail.”
Jane described that day in November 1999 as “one of the most traumatic days of my life.”
The next day, Jane met with the school principal and head coach Harmatz, who asked her if the reports of sexual abuse were true.
“I shook my head no,” she said.
But other things were happening simultaneously.
When another student told Harmatz she’d witnessed Robinson abusing Jane, he went to the girl’s house and threatened to make her athletic career difficult if she didn’t stop “lying” about Robinson.
That is just one example of how Harmatz covered up and enabled Robinson’s abuse. The school district’s response was equally awful: they sent Robinson a letter telling him to “use common sense.”
But the winds of scandal were in the air.
Finally, Robinson was dismissed in March 2001. A few weeks later, the high school’s newspaper, El Gato, ran a story that said Robinson’s firing was due to “poor judgement.”
Then came the betrayal.
Coach Harmatz ignored the fact that Robinson had been fired and was quoted by the local newspaper as saying Robinson was continuing to coach on-campus practices “every single day.
Worse still, the El Gato report spurred talk amongst students and teachers, and Jane could hear them gossiping about her behind her back.
Jane left high school, enrolling in a West Valley Community College program for gifted high school students.
“I remember being 16 years old and suddenly being on my own,” Jane said. “I was no longer in high school, no longer with the rest of my teammates. I never went on a first date or had a first kiss. Instead, my high school turned a blind eye to my sexual predator, which led me down a path of self-destruction. Suddenly, I had to figure out the rest of my future: I was no longer an athlete, no longer a high school student and lost for a very long time afterwards.”
The stress and anxiety caused by Robinson’s abuse and the subsequent horrific developments took a terrible toll on Jane’s health.
“I was experiencing so much stress that my hair began falling out and at one point I collapsed and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance,” she said.
She continues to suffer from PTSD, anxiety, instability, insomnia and depression.
“It’s hard to put into context the impact of what happened to me and how it continued to drown me throughout my life,” Jane said. “The red flags that were overlooked and swept under the rug followed me for 20 years. Those red flags should have been acknowledged the moment they were presented to school administrators. I should have been protected.”
Jane went on to say that “Robinson should never have been permitted to come back to campus after his initial arrest in 1999.”
Twenty years later, in February 2019, Robinson was arrested by the San Jose Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. He stands charged with sexually assaulting four girls, including Jane.
Robinson is free on bail awaiting trial, a legacy of carnage eclipsing his successes as a track coach.
And Jane’s message to parents, school officials and law enforcement is straightforward.
“Never let a conditioned, 15-year-old kid defend her predator. Never wash your hands of a situation involving a sexual predator. Never assume a child has a parent who will take corrective measures. Please, keep them safe,” she concluded.