Steamboat Springs High School students rally against sexual violence

Junior Maelin Moore holds a sign outside the Steamboat Springs High School during a rally to bring awareness to what she views as sexual harassment issues at the school.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:48 p.m. to correct the misspelling of Rhys Wehlitz and Kevin Krupp’s names.

“Boys will not be boys; boys will be held accountable.”

That was the message Gabe Harrell wanted to convey as he stood outside Steamboat Springs High School alongside five other students holding signs spreading messages about what they see as a sexual violence problem at the high school.

“Boys will be boys is a stupid excuse,” Harrell added.

The six students — senior Adia Clark Lay, sophomore Sophie Cowman, junior Maelin Moore, junior Gabe Harrell, junior Kevin Krupp, sophomore Elisa Englken and junior Rhys Wehlitz — stood outside the high school Thursday during parent-teacher conferences and held signs reading “do you know what your sons say?” “teach your kids consent” and other messages about sexual violence.

Moore, who organized the rally, said she chose the specific time because she believes it is a parent’s responsibility to educate their children about what behaviors are appropriate.

“We want parents to start talking to their kids and telling them that this isn’t OK,” Moore said. “I feel like in our town specifically, a lot of the kids here just kind of get a slap on the wrist for what they do, and they don’t understand that they’re hurting people.”

As the kids stood outside with soft music playing in the background, parents, teachers and other adults entering the school shared different reactions.

“Thank you guys for being out here,” one man told the group.

“If anybody gives you trouble, let me know,” another said.

Most who passed the group waved or offered a compliment, but many stared down at their phones or avoided eye contact.

“I’d like to see a change in the education of the students at this school,” Cowman said.

“Just because things have been one way for a long time doesn’t mean it’s right,” Clark Lay added.

The students said the rally is long overdue because they believe sexual violence is a pervasive problem at the school.

“I think it’s important that parents are forced to see this, and they have to acknowledge that kids face something as extreme as sexual assault, and it might be your son that is the perpetrator,” Moore said.

Steamboat Springs School District hired a former FBI agent and independent investigator in February 2020 to investigate the culture at the high school related to the alleged mishandling of claims of sexual harassment made by student victims to the administration. At the end of her investigation, Quimby said she identified 28 cases with a sexual misconduct component over the past four years.

In response to the findings, the district appointed a task force of teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, students and community members to make recommendations to the school about improving the prevention of and response to sexual violence.

Moore said Thursday that while she does feel the committee is a step in the right direction, she worries their recommendations may not be coming quickly enough.

“I think it’s really good that they went out of their way to create this committee, and I’ve heard they’re very dedicated, but sometimes, it takes way too long,” Moore said, adding that she found out about the committee recently and is still considering whether she will join.

As for actionable items the students hope to see from their movement, Moore said they hope Steamboat Springs High School Principal Richard Elertson, who has worked in the position for less than a year, treats sexual violence as a serious problem and holds students accountable for inappropriate behavior.

Students also hope the school relaxes its dress code, as all students at the rally said they believe shaming female students for their clothing can lead to placing the blame for sexual violence on the victim, rather than the perpetrator.

“Rape is the only crime where the victim gets blamed,” Clark Lay said. “I think that’s because the perpetrator is not held accountable for their actions.”

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