Court backs stu­dent after ‘ rapist’ claim at high school

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - WORLD -

A FED­ERAL judge has come down on the side of a teenager stu­dent sus­pended for post­ing com­ments about a “rapist” on a bath­room mir­ror at her school.

Aela Mans­mann ad­mit­ted post­ing a sticky note: “There’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”

What at first ap­peared to be a coura­geous move has proved to be highly di­vi­sive — be­cause there was no rapist at the school, near Port­land in Maine.

Her note did in­cite a wave of fear in the area and saw fin­gers pointed and sev­eral male stu­dents os­tracised.

The school in­ves­ti­gated but when she said her mes­sage was merely aimed at call­ing at­ten­tion to the wider so­ci­etal prob­lem of sex­ual as­sault, they sus­pended Mans­mann for “bul­ly­ing”, say­ing her ac­tions had hurt, rather than helped oth­ers. Her fam­ily took le­gal ac­tion. Her lawyers said pun­ish­ing her would dis­cour­age vic­tims from com­ing for­ward.

“Speak­ing up about sex­ual as­sault is al­ready dif­fi­cult for young peo­ple. If this pun­ish­ment had been al­lowed to stand, it would have only made it more dif­fi­cult. To­day’s de­ci­sion reaf­firms that stu­dents have the right to free­dom of speech, and that they do not check their rights at the school­house gate,” said Alison Beyea, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor at the ACLU of Maine.

Mans­mann’s mother, Shael Nor­ris, said she and her daugh­ter were “thrilled”.

“All my daugh­ter ever wanted was for stu­dents to feel safe speak­ing out about sex­ual as­sault. I’m so proud of her for stand­ing up for what she be­lieves in,” Nor­ris said.

The school has not com­mented but pre­vi­ously said Mans­mann meant well but “made a re­ally bad choice”.

Aela Mans­mann.

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