When the employees at Mission Girls Services wrote up an Instagram post condemning sexual violence and Jon Jacobo, who was accused of rape in August, they figured it was the right move.
After all, Mission Girls is an organization that “strives to empower young women,” according to the website for Mission Neighborhood Centers, the nonprofit that oversees the program. And Mission Girls addresses topics like sex-based violence, healthy relationships, and body positivity with young girls in the community.
The eight-person Mission Girls team — made up of women of color, a few of whom were themselves survivors of sexual assault — met on Aug. 10 to put out a statement condemning sexual assault and offering support to victims of sexual assault, including housing activist Sasha Perigo, who on Aug. 6 accused Jacobo of rape on Twitter.
The women at Mission Girls also provided information about crisis hotlines, invited anyone interested to join their healing circle, and specifically called out Jacobo — a prominent spokesperson during the pandemic and a touted potential candidate for District 9 supervisor — as someone who had committed harm in the community.
Hours later, after everyone had gone home for the day, Mission Girls site coordinator Gloria Dominguez began receiving phone calls and text messages from her superiors to take down the post. While she ultimately removed the Instagram statement that same evening, she also decided to file a grievance about how the situation was handled, according to her former coworkers.
The next day, the employee of nearly four years was abruptly fired for a “violation of employee handbook social media policy and taking [a] factual position on a pending criminal matter,” according to Dominguez’s discharge papers.
For two of her co-workers — Marilyn Lopez Mota and Angelica Huerta — Dominguez’s firing came as a shock. The Mission Girls team had been prepared to remove Jacobo’s name from the post, and Dominguez had taken it down from the group’s Instagram account altogether, so her dismissal seemed like a step too far. Both Mota and Huerta resigned in protest in the following weeks.
After Dominguez was fired, Mission Neighborhood Centers released a new statement saying, “All victims of sexual assault … should be heard and believed,” but added that “we also firmly stand for due process” and statements “based in fact” over allegations made on social media.
Mota said she and others tried to organize a town hall with Mission Neighborhood Centers so that employees could speak with the administration about how they were feeling about the allegations against Jacobo and the abrupt termination of their boss.
But Mission Neighborhood Centers’ sent out an all-staff email forbidding the use of MNC facilities for the meeting, a response Mota called “super disheartening.”
Huerta speculated that MNC fired Dominguez to cover their bases from a legal standpoint and avoid being accused of defamation. “Instead of being in solidarity with our people,” Huerta said, MNC’s actions came across as ”oppressing their own people, which is unfortunate because these are the same cycles that we’re trying to break.”
Reactions range from passionately critical to perfunctory and cautious
The varying responses to Perigo’s allegations illustrate clear differences in how Latinx nonprofits have chosen to approach serious charges against a prominent community leader. The Mission Girls statement supported Perigo and called for support for all the women “who have been impacted by the recent harm that has been committed by a predominant figure in our community: Jon Jacobo.”
For Mota, who worked at Mission Girls until August and is a survivor of sexual assault herself, the decision to make a public statement was a no-brainer.
“We felt that it was kind of, like, on us as an organization that’s in that building that serves all women,” Mota said. “We took it upon ourselves to make sure that our community felt heard and respected and had a place to really talk about what’s going on.”
Many organizations called for accountability and action within the community, but few mentioned Jacobo specifically. An exception was Acción Latina’s newspaper, El Tecolote, which published a strongly worded editorial on its front page on Aug. 12. In it, the editorial team called for a cultural change away from a cycle of abuse and generational trauma.
“The news that a woman of our community had been violated by someone she trusted, a man of our community who had orchestrated an image as a community servant, was devastating,” read the bilingual El Tecolote op-ed, which called Jacobo out by name: “That man — well known in Mission politics and someone who El Tecolote has featured prominently in the past — is Jon Jacobo.”
Nonprofit art collective Galería de la Raza shared part of District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar and Ani Rivera’s Medium post about holding young leaders accountable and San Francisco’s #YoTambien moment. Neither mentioned Jacobo by name, but the Medium post did assume Jacobo’s guilt, saying, “This past week, we learned that a respected leader in our Latinx community sexually assaulted a young woman.”
Mission-based Horizons Unlimited, which connects at-risk youth of color and their families with services to treat substance abuse and mental health, and help them find jobs, also took a stand and named Jacobo in an Instagram post, but stopped short of assuming his guilt. “Our responses to this moment should be newfound advocacy for survivors,” part of the statement read. “In the days following the rape allegations against a prominent Mission community leader Jon Jacobo by housing rights activist Sasha Perigo, Horizons’ leadership has joined discussions among Mission organizations to critically evaluate and admittingly DO BETTER … ”
However, most community organizations, including Mission Neighborhood Centers, avoided naming names and chose their words cautiously. Because of the delicate situation, “we must be even more careful to make sure our official public statements are careful, consistent and based in fact,” said MNC’s statement after the Mission Girls post was taken down. The next day, dozens of comments criticizing the new post were deleted.
After multiple requests for comment, Mission Local received an email from the human resources director for Mission Neighborhood Centers, Beiling Gonzalez, which said, “In accordance with our legal obligation to maintain the privacy of employee information, MNC’s strict policy is to not release personnel information regarding any of our employees.”
Calle 24 Latino Cultural District’s original brief message on Instagram on Aug. 6 read simply, “As an organization, our values align with accountability and justice. Please allow time for the process to take place.”
The terse statement received backlash from the community, but Calle 24’s director, Susana Rojas, said that her team needed some time to think carefully about a more comprehensive response.
The next day, Calle 24 posted a new statement commending the bravery of those speaking out against abuse. Jacobo had already taken leave from his public positions and resigned from the Building Inspection Commission, and Calle 24 noted his leave as vice president of the organization.
Eventually, the San Francisco Latino Parity and Equity Coalition, on behalf of more than two dozen Latino community organizations, released a statement on Aug. 10 that never mentioned Jacobo.
“This recent accusation is devastating because, as the survivor writes in her powerful letter, she is not an aberration,” the coalition’s statement reads. “The case is but one part of a broader picture. As a community and as a culture, we must learn from this and do better moving forward by believing and supporting survivors, holding perpetrators accountable and combatting rape culture.”
The signatories on the statement include many of the organizations such as Acción Latina and Calle 24 that issued their own statements — and MNC. It is also signed by 25 groups, representing a compendium of most of the Mission nonprofits including the Mission Economic Development Agency, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Mission Housing Development Corporation, Mission Graduates, La Raza, Catholic Charities and Dolores Street Community Services.
Missing from that list, which spans religious, cultural, and economic organizations, was the Latino Task Force, the highly celebrated coalition of local community organizations that carried the Mission through some of the worst parts of the pandemic. Jacobo was the task force’s health chair, but has also taken a leave from his responsibilities there.
The Latino Task Force, made up of more than three dozen community-based organizations — many of which signed the Latino Parity and Equity Coalition statement, did not make a public statement. However, in the weeks after Perigo’s accusations, they brought in representatives from San Francisco Women Against Rape and the city government’s Office of Sexual Harrassment and Assault Response and Prevention, known as SHARP. The groups presented at the Latino Task Force’s weekly meetings with community-based organizations and other local officials.
Nevertheless, people like Mota and Huerta found the silence from the Latino Task Force to be deafening, and the influence of community leaders outside Mission Neighborhood Centers to be alarming. Mission Girls shares a space at the Alabama Street hub with the Latino Task Force, and its staff crossed paths with Jacobo on a daily basis.
The Latino Task Force has declined to issue a statement for this article, but Calle 24’s Susana Rojas, who is prominent in the Latino Task Force, also serves as one of the Mission Girls co-madrinas. This board of patronesses is made up of former founders and site coordinators for Mission Girls who advise and mentor the staff, and some of the co-madrinas did push Dominguez to take down the Instagram post.
“When things are as painful and as controversial as this is, being able to look at all sides and to really take a measured approach is really, really important,” Rojas said. Rojas said she assumed the Mission Girls staff had good intentions in writing their statement, but that “it would have been nice” for the co-madrinas to be consulted.
However, Rojas implied that they might have approached the decision to fire Dominguez differently than MNC’s administration. “As co-madrinas we do not have the purview to influence the decisions of the organization when it comes to HR issues,” said Rojas. Nor, she said, were the co-madrinas privy to all the circumstances.
Had they been consulted by Mission Neighborhood Centers regarding Dominguez’s termination, Rojas said “we would have recommended restorative practices for the whole issue — not just with the staff, but with everything that’s involved in it.”