Woman says ‘social emotional learning’ org founder urged her to drop sex assault case against teacher due to his skin color

The founder of a celebrated “social emotional learning” non-profit that is backed by funding from California public schools allegedly pressured a high school teenager to drop her charges against a teacher who sexually assaulted her because arresting him could contribute to the “over-incarceration” of black men.

Jennifer Freed, described by the Daily Wire as a “psychologist, astrologist, and sex guru,” co-founded the “social emotional learning” (SEL) non-profit, AHA! Santa Barbara.

According to its website, “AHA! equips teenagers, educators, and parents with social and emotional intelligence to dismantle apathy, prevent despair, and interrupt hate-based behavior.”

“Our youth are in emotional crisis,” AHA! states. “Research continues to demonstrate the unmatched importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) in reducing emotional/physical violence in schools by building healthy campus climates with young people taking on the role of change agents in this shift.”

The organization offers a string of programs to “serve middle school, junior high, and high school students, parents/guardians/adults at home, educators, and the broader community.”

(Video: YouTube)

For high school students, AHA! conducts “talk circles” aimed at “reducing emotional/physical violence in schools by building healthy campus climates,” the Daily Wire reports.

But according to one woman — identified by the Daily Wire only as “Maria” — Freed pressured her to give her black teacher, who allegedly “grabbed her buttocks and nibbled her ear” when she was just 17, a free pass because of the color of his skin.

Rather than report him to authorities, Freed told Maria, she should consider a “restorative approach” to her abuser.

“I was very scared of Jennifer because she’s very persistent in getting what she wants,” Maria told the Daily Wire. “She said I will feel better if I talk to him and do a restorative approach instead of going to authorities.”

“I think it’s really inappropriate for a licensed psychologist to say that to a victim a week after they’ve been assaulted by someone in authority,” she added. “That really harmed me.”

It was, at the very least, a hypocritical push by Freed, considering that one of AHA!’s “five pillars” is “empathy,” according to its website.

“We understand and appreciate the thoughts, feelings, and choices of others, and strive to see their point of view,” AHA! claims.

The organization has received some pretty high-profile attention.

“Freed’s organization has been feted by celebrities such as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who visited the organization in May to herald its purported mental health benefits for youth,” the Daily Wire writes. “But the actions by Freed could fuel critics who say SEL prioritizes leftist politics over children’s emotional well-being.”

Ultimately, Maria chose to dismiss Freed’s suggestion and went to the authorities.

“Her accusations against the teacher, a black nationalist and socialist named Matef Harmachis, led to a criminal conviction for battery in 2017, his firing from the school in 2020, and a nearly $1 million settlement with the school district just months ago in a lawsuit that faulted the district for keeping Harmachis on staff despite years of sexually inappropriate behavior,” the Daily Wire reports.

Since the suit, far-left activists have portrayed Harmachis as the victim because of the color of his skin. Maria says she is now “scared for [her] safety.”

Freed, meanwhile, denied Maria’s claims, saying she neither knows Harmachis nor pressured Maria to drop her charges against him. Freed maintained she had nothing to do with the case and didn’t know why anyone would say otherwise.

“But after a previous Daily Wire report on Harmachis, Freed took to Facebook to state that she had evidence that Maria had a positive view of her group,” the outlet reports.

“I have actual testimonials on video etc from MARIA about the groups AHA! and how much she gained,” Freed posted.

How she would have known “Maria’s” true identity if she had no involvement with the case remains a mystery.

(Video: YouTube)

According to Maria, she met Freed at a restaurant as a teen, at Freed’s behest.

Freed told her that she had “been hearing a lot of things about you” and informed her that she’s “known Harmachis for a long time, we’re close friends,” Maria recalled.

“You know what the rates of black men being incarcerated are,” Freed said, according to Maria. “Knowing you, I know you’d just want to do a connection circle instead of pressing charges, and I’d facilitate that.”

She then told the teen that she’d be telling the principal about the situation the following day and that Maria had consented to her plan.

“She’s saying she’s going to say these things that I don’t want her to say,” Maria said. “It seemed really wrong and transactional.”

“I felt betrayed, I’ve known this person since I was like 13,” she continued. “She’s a licensed psychologist, why is she saying these things to me?”

“One reason, Maria suspects, is that Harmachis’ wife, an ethnic studies professor named Diane Fujino, sits on the board of directors of a group that contributes money to AHA! Santa Barbara’s ‘social emotional learning’ programs,” writes the Daily Wire. “Fujino’s Fund for Santa Barbara is listed in the group’s annual report as a donor.”

“Now I feel like I was just a pawn that they wanted to get rid of because I was interrupting their business,” Maria said. “Of course she would encourage me to drop charges, she’s getting money from the district and she’s friends with my perpetrator.”

According to Maria, Freed’s talk circles crossed “a boundary” when the SEL guru encouraged her to be more sexually active and suggested students should consider masturbation and lesbian encounters.

“I always pushed back against her when she was very sexually positive. At that time I wasn’t,” Maria said. “I felt like she was just laughing at me. It was like, you’re really crossing a boundary.”

“I was one of the only heterosexuals,” Maria continued, “and Jennifer would question that and say, ‘Why can’t you be both?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m not attracted to women.’ And she said, ‘I think the world would operate better if everyone was gay.'”

“I didn’t want to be pushed,” Maria stated. “I don’t want an adult to talk to me about personal intimate things.”

The Daily Wire continues:

AHA! Santa Barbara asked participants to sign waivers allowing Freed to use their images for promotional and fundraising purposes, then frequently directed them to record video testimonials praising the program, Maria said.

Freed’s invocation of video records of Maria in her possession raises concerns about the leverage that adults who engage in sex talk with children as part of SEL could have over them. Not only could such marketing materials be used to undercut youth’s credibility should they criticize the program, but if a teen girl was troubled by the conduct of SEL consultants and was tempted to sound the alarm, she would likely be conscious that the consultant knew plenty of embarrassing personal details about her—the type they are encouraged to disclose in talk circles.

 

“Because of the way she probed me,” Maria said, “I thought I needed to be extra nice to her.”

After her experience with Freed, Maria said she had a hard time seeking professional help with her mental well-being.

“It took me a long time to disassociate psychologists with people like Jennifer,” Maria said. “She did a lot of harm to me, and I can only imagine the harm she does to other children. I don’t trust her.”

Melissa Fine

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