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'We don't feel safe' East Students demand staff get training on sexual violence response

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MADISON, Wis. — Students at Madison East staged a second walkout this week demanding the district better train staff on how to best respond to instances of sexual violence involving students.

For the hundreds of students who participated, Friday’s protest was about addressing the wider culture around sexual assault and harassment at the high school.

“We need support for our students,” said East senior Tamaya Travis. “ We need to feel safe in our school and we don’t feel safe.”

They say the alleged rape of a young woman by an East student at a house party over the weekend was a catalyst for demanding the change they’ve been wanting for years.

Travis said school leadership has failed to appropriately address sexual assault in the past.

Junior Lydia Jobaag helped organize the protest and she described the current atmosphere at East High School as emotional and intense with many not knowing what to do.

“With all the teachers I’ve spoken to, none of them have said that they know a clear way of reporting things,” Jobaag said. “What we want is really clear definitions. How do you report? When do you report it? What do you put on that report? Because currently teachers have no idea.”

She also said included in their list of demands is education for both staff and students that focuses on consent with the understanding that there are no grey areas.

Advocates at the Rape Crisis Center said this kind of training is long overdue.

The Center’s Co-Executive Director Missy Mael said the RCC made those same recommendations to the Madison Metropolitan School District back in 2019.

“Unfortunately the administration at the time declined a formal relationship between the Rape Crisis Center and the district to do the education that the students were asking for,” Mael said.

She also said following Wednesday’s walkout the MMSD School Board President did reach out to the center to initiate a more direct relationship moving forward.

Mael is now urging schools to start focusing on protecting victims more than they do the accused.

“Maybe they’re suspended or they’re in online school or they go to another school which might seem a little bit harsh, but not more harsh than telling a victim that they have to sit next to the accused student,” she said.

Madison East high schoolers were joined by students from three other Madison High Schools–West, Memorial, and Lafollette–during their walkout, which Jobaag said was encouraging.

“It makes us feel better and more supported instead of feeling a little bit alone as a school,” she said.

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