Students from the New Mexico School for the Arts, (left to right) Joyce Shroulote, Julia Lee and Jesse White light sage during a rally to support affirmative consent legislation HB 44, they said, supports sexual assault survivors and could prevent future attacks. (Shaun Griswold / Source NM)
Elena Gonzales said the first time a boy touched her inappropriately, it happened on the playground.
Joyce Shroulote said she learned about rape at 7-years-old when her grandmother would warn her to get home before dark so she wouldn’t be attacked.
Julia Lee said she is just recently coming to understand that the boys who pull on her shirt are committing sexual harassment.
These women, all high schoolers, stood with their peers in support for sexual assault survivors and called for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to prioritize legislation protecting this group.
“What we’re about is that there is not a space within our school structure to talk about sexual assault, and there is not a space within our school structure to talk about it without feeling like we’re treated with apathy or being questioned — unless it’s an open investigation,” Gonzales said.
The day started on a turquoise sky day in Santa Fe as students from the New Mexico School for the Arts read a letter with a list of demands to their administration, including that sexual assault will not be tolerated on campus.
They left the school and marched a few blocks to the east end of the state capital where they echoed the same demands, alongside students from other schools, to legislative leaders and the governor calling for action and sharing their experiences.
“As an Indigenous person coming to school in Santa Fe with white peers, dominantly white peers, it scares me to know that I could be next. My friends could be next,” Shroulote said. “It’s just, it’s scary.”
Shroulote (Diné/Tewa/Hopi) said the early lessons in rape culture with her grandmother led her to conduct her own consent classes with groups in and outside her school. “It shows me how privileged my friends are to have not learned about this when they were my age.”
The mic was open for anyone to share. Dozens of teenagers said they were survivors of assault.
For some, it was the first time sharing their experience. For others, it was a continuation of their frustration seeking justice, as they called for really anything to be done, because they said many of their experiences are happening repeatedly.
“I have had a history not only at school, but throughout my life with sexual harassment and assault,” Lee said. “It’s actually been quite a big part of my life. And it has happened pretty often throughout my life.”
The group is lobbying state lawmakers to pass House Bill 44. In short, the bill seeks to mandate affirmative consent standards in public schools and colleges. This means schools must teach the concept in health classes, hang up signs that promote consent and apply the standards to protocols when sexual assualt allegations are brought up between students.
Lila Quezada said she has worked with advocates since she was 14-years-old to get this type of legislation passed. At 17, she said the time is now.
“It’s really difficult,” she said. “I mean, at this point, it feels like there’s nothing we can do. And we do this, and hopefully something will come from this. Because if not, what else can we do? It’s starting to feel hopeless for us. And it shouldn’t have to be like that, fighting for our education. We shouldn’t have to be fighting for our education.”
Lujan Grisham did not include HB 44 in her legislative priorities released Friday afternoon. This doesn’t mean the bill cannot be called to a debate and possible vote.
The Governor’s Office said the executive budget does include $5 million increase in funding for services that help sexual assault survivors. “With record revenue projections, the upcoming session is sure to have a weighty agenda to be addressed in just 30 days, but the Governor’s Office will continue to review and evaluate potential initiatives,” said spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett.
Rep. Tara Lujan (D-Santa Fe) was in attendance at the rally and said she will work with HB 44 sponsors Rep. Liz Thomson (D-Albuquerque) and Rep. Andrés Romero (D-Albuquerque) to speak with Lujan Grisham about the need for affirmative consent legislation.
The representative said she spoke with the governor after a youth summit last summer where the affirmative consent issue was discussed by participants.
“We just need to push her on some things, like we would do with anybody else,” Lujan said. “This is something we can move forward and we can feel comfortable doing so.”
Students at the rally have the same message to the governor: Give this bill the opportunity for debate and push to pass it now.
“I’m saying this is an issue that affects minors, and when you have a group of kids outside of your Roundhouse protesting and saying that there’s something wrong, we’re telling you that there’s something wrong,” Gonzales said. “As our governor, you’re supposed to serve us. I’m asking you to serve us, and I’m asking you to listen to what we’re saying.”
The same could be heard from everyone else in attendance.
“This is not something that you postpone to, like, the very last minute. It is a priority,” Lee said. “Because the people in Santa Fe and New Mexico, the young children, and young adults are being raped and assaulted and harassed in schools outside of schools, at public gatherings in everyday life, and it needs to be stopped.”
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