City News

Madison high school’s response to sexual assault prompts backlash, apologies

Madison school officials apologized after controversial comments from the district’s head of security in the wake of a sexual assault at a local high school. 

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Madison school officials are backpedaling after comments made by the district’s head of security drew heavy criticism in the wake of an alleged sexual assault at a city high school. 

The incident occurred on April 10 when a 15-year-old female student at Madison’s East High School told the School Resource Officer she had been sexually assaulted in a bathroom by two male students. The two students, both age 15, were arrested for second degree sexual assault of a child, a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 60 years.

Following the assault, Madison Metropolitan School District safety and security coordinator Joe Balles came under fire after comments he made were deemed inappropriate.

“Our buildings are full of kids, and kids will be kids,” Balles told Channel 3000. “As terrible and tragic as that incident sounds, I would just ask that people just be patient. Our schools are very safe but there are incidents that are going to happen from time to time.”

Balles’ comments were widely criticized, including by the Madison-based Rape Crisis Center, which called the statement “deeply troubling.”

“Statements like the one Balles made to Channel 3000, including the phrase ‘kids will be kids,’ perpetuate a culture that facilitates violence, particularly sexual violence, in our communities,” the RCC said in a statement. “It is never acceptable to minimize any form of sexual assault.”

The backlash to Balles’ remarks prompted East High School principal Michael Hernandez to send an apology letter to families of East High students. 

“I apologize about the statements that were made by the Head of Security last night in the news,” Hernandez said. “We are working with the Rape Crisis Center to problem solve together next steps to provide a safe space for all in our community. There is no excuse for this type of behavior and we will do everything we can to provide it.”

Balles also offered his apologies and said in a statement he made “an extremely poor word choice.”

“It is never ok to rationalize, minimize or excuse sexual assault, and there is no excuse for my words, which did not recognize the profoundly deep impact that sexual violence has,” he said. “It is my job to ensure schools are physically, mentally and emotionally safe spaces for all. I recognize the deep impact my words had, and I will do better for our students.” 

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