A Maine high school sophomore took a stand against what she says is her school’s inaction toward sexual assault and harassment — and ended up suspended for bullying.
Aela Mansmann, 15, was disturbed by her classmates’ stories of sexual abuse, as none of their alleged abusers had faced consequences, she told BuzzFeed News.
So the teen put an anonymous sticky note on the bathroom wall at Cape Elizabeth High School with the glaring message: “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”
Mansmann’s mom, Shael Norris, tells PEOPLE, “In this day and age of social media and all other vehicles, she went old school. I am very proud of her.”
However, the school administration quickly launched an investigation as to who had posted the message, which inspired many similar sticky notes, according to the report.
Mansmann was called in for questioning after surveillance tapes caught her exiting the bathroom, and was put through interviews for three weeks. She was then reported to administrators as a bully, she told BuzzFeed News.
She was soon suspended along with two other students for three days for violating anti-bullying policies.
“That kinda confuses me, right? Because this person wasn’t identified in the sticky notes. In fact, there’s more than one person that was being referred to. Yet this person self-identified feeling targeted, so the school took steps to suspend me versus further investigating that self-identification,” Mansmann said.
In a statement obtained by NBC affiliate WCSH, Superintendent Donna Wolfram defended the decision to suspend Mansmann, citing the school’s anti-bullying policies.
“The Cape Elizabeth Schools have never disciplined a student for advocating for their peers or their views on cultural, social and political matters,” the statement read. “It is important to understand, however, that when a student’s speech bullies another student, we are required by law and by School Board policy to investigate and take prompt action, even if the same student has also spoken out on a matter of public concern.”
The school’s policy defines bullying as physically harming a student or damaging a student’s property, placing a student in reasonable fear of physical harm, creating an intimidating or hostile educational environment for the student, or interfering with the student’s academic performance or ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges provided by the school, among other things.
“It makes me angry that I’m being punished for bullying and a rapist isn’t being punished for raping people,” Mansmann told WCSH. “I felt this was important – that this was common knowledge.”
Neither Wolfram, Principal Jeffrey Shedd nor Title IX Coordinator Cathy Stankard responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Superintendent Wolfram said the sticky notes “caused a lot of confusion,” she told WCSH. “We spent a lot of time investigating. It had some adverse effects on some other students. I think here could’ve been a better way to do that.”
Mansmann said she did try other methods: she attended a school board meeting in June and helped organize a regional summit last year on sexual assault prevention and awareness.
According to the Portland Press Herald, the school conducted seven investigations into allegations of sexual harassment or assault during the previous school year, and officials issued disciplinary sanctions in the four cases that were determined “more likely than not” to have violated Title IX policy.
Mansmann is currently in the midst of appealing her suspension with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, and on Monday, joined dozens of fellow Cape Elizabeth students in walking out of class to protest her punishment.
“Aela is not a survivor, she’s an advocate,” says her mom, Norris. “One of the things that I taught her and that she’s very clear about is that if we wait for survivors to be the only voices to stand up and speak out against things that are happening, then we’ll never get anywhere.”
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