‘There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.’ These are the 12 words that saw the 15-year-old accuser suspended from school – not the alleged rapist.
Aela Mansmann is a student at Cape Elizabeth High School, Maine. Feeling administrators weren’t doing enough to tackle sexual assault allegations, the teenager left sticky notes with those 12 words in bathrooms.
The hope was that they would spark conversation – she was careful not to name anyone. However, the school took against the small act of protest, suspending Mansmann for bullying.
Check out the local news report below:
Considering there wasn’t a name attached to any of the notes, Mansmann said she was ‘confused’ over the school’s decision.
Mansmann told BuzzFeed News:
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.
The 15-year-old, who helped organise a regional summit on sexual assault awareness and prevention at Southern Maine Community College last year, commented she and others had already made school officials aware of the accusations before posting the notes.
These are the sticky notes sophomore Aela Mansmann posted. She says she doesn’t understand how it’s bullying if she didn’t write the accusers name. She will be suspended for 3 days next week. She hopes this will start an important conversation @newscentermaine pic.twitter.com/eQExV6uhcL
— Roslyn Flaherty (@roslyn_flaherty) October 4, 2019
Despite Mansmann’s mother, Shael Norris, being told her daughter wouldn’t be formally punished for the notes, on Friday (October 4) she was pulled out of class and told she was getting suspended for three days.
Following the teen’s suspension – along with two, unnamed others – around 50 high school students walked out of classes on Monday (October 7) in solidarity with Mansmann.
Mansmann told WGME on Monday:
I definitely am ashamed to say I go to Cape Elizabeth High School with this being their reaction.
As a flock of signs reading ‘I choose to believe survivors’ and ‘Rape culture has got to go’ appeared outside the school, Mansmann’s fellow students called for the suspended teens’ records to be cleared.
Mansmann told the Portland Press Herald school officials had pressured her to reveal names of students who approached her regarding sexual assault – but she refused.
They all got pretty angry, and I was in a pretty tricky situation. These [students] have put their trust in me, and I should be honoring that trust.
Norris, a co-founder of the national sexual assault prevention group SafeBAE, told school officials that she supported her daughter’s decision not to name the alleged rapist. ‘They wanted her to name everyone who told her about an assault, but she’d didn’t feel comfortable doing that,’ Norris said.
Her parents have appealed the suspension in writing to the school, complaining that it’s a violation of Mansmann’s freedom of speech – she is allowed in school while the appeal is pending.
However, Norris argues the suspension could have a larger effect on victims scared to come forward.
As reported by the Portland Press Herald, Norris said:
I think this could prevent any survivors from coming forward. [School officials] want to tell everyone the school is perfect and safe.
But no school is completely safe, this is an issue in every community. What we’re trying to do is have the district understand their obligations and train staff to handle the issue.
School officials have since said that all accusations of sexual assault and violations of Title XI – the federal law which prevents discrimination and sexual violence in education – seriously.
Aela Mansmann was suspended because a student felt they were being bullied by her for this note. This is all you need to know about America’s #rapeculture the school punished Aela rather than understanding why a student would self identify as a rapist!!!!! #BelieveWomen pic.twitter.com/OlWMYJ0BUy
— Kelcie 🌈 (@klckush) October 8, 2019
However, while they aren’t able to comment on the case specifically due to privacy laws, they ‘are confident that the matter was exhaustively investigated and that we took the action that law and policy require’.
A full statement from the school, posted on Twitter by News Center Maine’s Roslyn Flaherty, read:
The Cape Elizabeth Schools have never disciplined a student for advocating for their peers or their views on cultural, social and political matters.
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 that same student has also spoken out on a matter of public concern.
Donna Wolfrom, the superintendent for Cape Elizabeth Schools, told News Center Maine the sticky notes ’caused confusion’ and weren’t the best way to go about raising the issue.
Sticky notes were left in two girls' bathrooms at Cape Elizabeth HS last month allegedly saying "there is a rapist in the school and we know who it is." The Superintendent says she is confident students are safe but suggests students should have voiced their concerns differently pic.twitter.com/0llDg8vOFs
— Roslyn Flaherty (@roslyn_flaherty) October 4, 2019
It had adverse effects on other students. I think there could have been a better way to do it.
During the walkout, students came up with list of demands – including wiping the whistleblowers’ records as well as an overhaul of the school’s sexual assault policies. They also requested ‘trauma informed education’ and an ‘alternate forum to air grievances’.
Mansmann added to WCSH: ‘It makes me angry that I’m being punished for bullying and a rapist isn’t being punished for raping people.’
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30). Alternatively you can contact Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 111.
Male Survivors Partnership is available to support adult male survivors of sexual abuse and rape. You can contact the organisation on its website or on its helpline – 0808 800 5005.
After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.