Sexual assault advocates disagree with school response to alleged sexual assault
Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is taking issue with comments made by the Rhinelander schools superintendent regarding a recent alleged sexual assault at the high school.
In a press release issued March 5, Tri-County Executive Director Shellie Holmes stated that Superintendent Kelli Jacobi gave the wrong message about consent in a recent statement to the media regarding the alleged assault, when Jacobi stated that “…both students went into the bathroom voluntarily.”
Holmes said that implies that both students were agreeing to have sex when they went into the gender neutral bathroom together.
“This very disappointing statement alone dismisses the privilege of consent that can be given or taken away at any time,” the press release states. “This is not a defense for the school, the administration or the district to fall back on. More importantly, it is not a trauma-informed statement by Ms. Jacobi nor is it supportive of this victim or any victim in the future.”
Rhinelander High School student Austin Sauer was arrested last month and faces potential charges of child enticement, fourth degree sexual assault and exposing genitals to a child for an incident in the schools gender neutral bathroom. That bathroom is no longer being used. The agency is not claiming to know what happened between the two students.
In addition to providing advocacy for victims, Tri-County Council works on community education, preventing and raising awareness. The issue of consent is one of the complicated issues surrounding sexual assault, according to advocates:
“The issue of consent between two people is at the center of all intimate or sexual behavior. Just because two people take a ride in a car, enter alone together into a room, or walk down a hallway holding hands does not mean that one person is agreeing to have sex. The question must be asked and an affirmative answer given in order for intimate behavior to continue. Consent must be freely given by both parties but may also be withdrawn at any time during the encounter. Just because someone wants to hold hands with you or kiss you does not mean they want to have sex with you. Silence is not consent and pushing someone away is withdrawing consent.”