Walking out because something had to be done

October 15, 2018

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field reports from St. Paul, Minnesota, on a high school walkout and speak-out that dramatized the need to challenge sexual violence.

MORE THAN 55 high school students in Minnesota’s Twin Cities walked out of school and headed to the state Capitol building on October 11 to protest sexual assault and harassment.

The protest was organized by Hailey Dickinson, Riley Ebner and Sabrina Rodriguez, all students at North High School in St. Paul, who estimate that students from five high schools participated.

Asked about the reasons for walkout, Sabrina said simply: “I organized it because I felt like it was something that needed to be done.”

The crowd gathered for a speakout with signs reading “Stop Silencing Women,” “I don’t owe sex to anyone” and — in reference to the excuses made for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior that ring particularly terrifying to high school girls — “I don’t care if they are 17 or 87, they are responsible.”

Riley kicked off the event by speaking publicly about her own assault for the first time. She described relaying her assault to a single friend, who replied: “That’s just a thing that teenage boys do, and they can’t control it.”

Students speak out against sexual assault on the steps of the state Capitol in St. Paul
Students speak out against sexual assault on the steps of the state Capitol in St. Paul (Elizabeth Wrigley-Field | SW)

“I told no one else because I didn’t want to harm his reputation,” she said. “I didn’t share it with anyone else — until now.”

Riley went on to explain one of the students’ main demands: real education in their classrooms about consent:

We’re here today because we demand that something changes. There are perpetrators running our government, making our decisions, all while the survivors are haunted by their actions. In order to prevent from more Kavanaughs running our society, we demand for lessons about consent to be taught in our schools. Once in my life, one of my teachers talked to my class about consent — only once.

No means no. In fact, anything other than yes means no. We believe survivors, and we believe in consent.

Organizers from Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March and the International Socialist Organization came out to support the students and addressed the crowd, as did Democratic state Rep. Erin Murphy. Janessa Marquette of the Women’s March, who organizes for immigrant and refugee rights, described how she demands apologies from men who catcall her on the street, expressing a sense of defiance that ran through the day.

Hailey Dickinson closed the event with a message of solidarity, reiterating the demand that schools provide real sex education to keep students safe:

We are here standing with survivors. Survivors who have been shunned. Survivors who have been told that they must have been mistaken. Survivors who have been told that because they were wearing a certain outfit, that they were asking for it. Survivors who have been told that because their abuser is their own partner, that it doesn’t count as rape or assault.

We demand better consent education in our schools. Because let’s face it: teachers rarely mention consent or sexual assault, only using it as a mere segue from the topic of birth control to the topic of abstinence. Yes, those topics can be important, but schools neglect to mention the first step: Everybody has to say yes...A recent study showed that less than one-third of people were taught anything about consent or sexual assault in school. That’s not enough.

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