By Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4)– More than 100 students rallied outside East High School Friday, calling for change in what they say is a “rape culture” in Denver Public Schools. The demand for change comes after several allegations of sexual assault surfaced this week against several East High School students.

(credit: CBS)

Both Denver Public Schools and Denver police are investigating the accusations.

“We don’t want to have to go to school with rapists, we don’t want to have to go to school with perpetrators, we want to be able to make our school a safe place to be, and a place where we can learn,” said Valerie Boutwell, a senior at DSST Byers, a charter school in DPS.

Boutwell, a survivor of sexual assault herself, and other DPS students tell CBS4 there have been countless stories of high school students in various schools across the district who have been sexually assaulted by other students in the district.

“I think it’s rape culture, because we normalize what is happening to girls so much, it’s such a regular occurrence that if you hear about a girl being raped at a party or a girl being raped after school in a car, it’s something that you’re just like, ‘Oh that happened to me, too.’ It’s such a normalized thing that people are so used to, that it’s part of our culture,” Boutwell said.

To eradicate that culture, students say education changes district wide are necessary.

East High School in Denver (credit: CBS)

“I think the school system should definitely implement more assemblies, especially about consent, and teaching about consent, annually or monthly in school, just to really reinforce it into their brains that no means no, and only an enthusiastic yes means yes,” said Amara Ilustre, a student at Denver School of the Arts.

Boutwell agrees, “I’d like to see consent classes, mandatory in schools, because I think that students getting a refresher on what consent is and learning what it is is a good way for them to keep it fresh in their mind.”

The allegations at East High School recently surfaced against several male students who are active in school clubs and sports programs. Students at Friday’s protest said the school system should implement new policies that would prohibit any student accused of sexual assault to participate in clubs or sports until an investigation is complete.

“They’re supposed to be leaders, and we’re supposed to look up to them,” said Ayan Abukar, a junior at East High School.

(credit: CBS)

Students tell CBS4 they plan to continue protesting next week until changes are made.

Denver Public Schools issued the following written statement about the calls for change: While we cannot comment about the specifics of any pending allegations, we want to ensure our community knows we are actively working on all allegations that have been reported and will continue to do so. As a school district, we are continuing to work with our students to address their concerns. East High School offers health education that includes consent education, the Women of East club works to shine a spotlight on sex assault prevention, and the school has an ongoing partnership with Blue Bench and Project PAVE, two organizations dedicated to ending relationship violence.

We welcome student feedback, not only in terms of what preventive measures students find most beneficial, but also the specifics of any incidents of sexual harassment or unlawful sexual behavior so that we can engage our Title IX process, including mandatory reporting if applicable. Understanding that a student may not be comfortable coming forward with an allegation or disclosure, or would prefer to report anonymously, we highly encourage them to use Safe2Tell. Students receive ID’s pre-printed with Safe2Tell information on the back, and receive education around what Safe2Tell is and how to report, including during 9th grade academy.

Kati Weis

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