Following the alleged sexual assault of a minor girl last week in a bathroom by an 18-year-old male student in a bathroom at RHS late last month generated a firestorm of comments on various regional media outlets' Facebook pages. That anger is being turned on Rhinelander superintendent Kelli Jacobi following a statement broadcast on one of those outlets.
The Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault executive director Shellie Holmes released a statement Thursday afternoon decrying Jacobi's explanation of what took place between the two students. She said "both students went into the bathroom voluntarily" in a telephone interview broadcast Tuesday.
The male was arrested Feb. 27, the same day the alleged assault took place in the gender neutral bathroom next to the library at the high school. He made a bond appearance on Feb. 28 where judge Patrick O'Melia ordered the man released on a $1,500 signature bond and set another hearing for April.
At that hearing, assistant district attorney Jillian Pfeifer said the referral paperwork from the Oneida County Sheriff's Department did not arrive in the DA's office until just before the hearing and no charging decision had been made yet.
The River News is not identifying the male because he has not been formally charged with a crime.
Holmes' statement said while the council stands ready to assist victims of sexual assault, the education portion of its mission is almost as important.
"Besides providing advocacy for victims, we work on community education, prevention and raising awareness. We assist our community partners and systems in understanding the complicated issues surrounding sexual assault," the statement said.
The issue of consent, and what it means, is one of those issues, she said in the statement.
"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," Holmes said in the statement. "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 Consent must be freely given by both parties but may also be withdrawn at any time during the encounter.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."
Holmes went on to say the council does not know what happened in the incident other than the alleged victim said an assault happened, but the alleged assailant has not been charged yet.
"However, we do know that the wrong message about consent was given by the Superintendent, Kelli Jacobi when she gave her statement to the media regarding this alleged assault " ...both students went into the bathroom voluntarily." This implies that if two people went into the bathroom together (voluntarily) they must both be agreeing to have sex in that bathroom," She said in the statement. "This very disappointing statement alone dismisses the privilege of consent that can be given or taken away at any time. 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.
The statement said that the council stands ready to assist victims, parents teachers, administrators "and anyone else who has an interest in the health and safety of our students."
"It is incumbent upon all persons involved in our schools to first protect students, and as importantly, to be sure that all students and families are responsibly informed and educated," Holmes said.
Jacobi issued a clarifying statement late last week that read:
"My statement regarding the student arrest last week was not intended to comment on what happened between the two students. It was also not intended to say that walking into a bathroom together made whatever happened consensual. Many parents had concerns that this was a random incident and that students were being taken into this bathroom against their will. That was not the case. As I said in my statement, this is an ongoing investigation, so there is very little I can say."
"I apologize if my statement led anyone to believe that we weren't taking this situation seriously or didn't understand the seriousness of this incident," the statement concluded.
Under Wisconsin state statute, anyone under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to sex. What charges someone over 18 may face for having sex with a minor varies depending on the victim's age. Wisconsin statute 948 covers sex crimes against children.
Jacobi said the bathroom is not in use currently and that the male student is not allowed on school grounds, and may face expulsion proceedings by the school board.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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