A high school girl thought she was doing her classmates a favor by posting a note in the bathroom accusing a male student of sexual assault. The note read, “there’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”
But school officials didn’t see the note as a warning to other female students. They saw it as “bullying” the male student. Two other girls also posted notes and all three were suspended.
But one of the girls, 15-year-old sophomore Aela Mansmann, decided to take the school to federal court to fight her suspension. And with the ACLU on her side, she filed suit.
Mansmann’s message, displayed in the girl’s restroom on a sticky-note, alerted students that “there’s a rapist in our school and you know who it is.”
She and two other students left similar messages and alleged the school district did not take the accusations of sexual assault seriously enough.
The ACLU’s filing states that Mansmann has taken a “public stance as an ally for victims and survivors of sexual violence.”
This is where the #MeToo movement clashes with the equally politically correct “Stop bullying” movement. We must assume the young man is innocent, perhaps an innocent victim of a young girl’s anger at being jilted. Maybe, as happens frequently these days, signals were crossed and whatever happened to the young girl was a misunderstanding.
Or maybe, the boy is a rapist and Ms. Mansnann’s warning is a public service.
The point being, we don’t know. It is significant that three young girls all came forward apparently to warn their classmates and that Mansmann’s charge did not occur in a vacuum.
Ms. Mansmann is a very articulate spokesperson for her cause:
“I think anyone that has experienced any sort of sexual violence or harassment is especially vulnerable when they are going through their healing process, and to have an ally who is willing to advocate for that, I think is crucial and beneficial,” Mansmann told the news outlet.
Now, for the other side of the story.
Two other students who left notes made no specific charges, named no names, and none of the girls claimed they were victims of sexual assault, although Mansmann’s statement would indicate that she was attacked by someone at some time in the past.
Jeffrey Shedd, the high school’s principal, sent a letter to the community last week saying that a male student who believed the note was directed toward him said he felt unsafe at school after the messages were posted.
All possibilities should be explored, but before demonizing the young man, we should entertain the possibility that these high school girls decided to go after someone they didn’t like, or who had wronged all three of them, and smear him with the “rapist” charge. It wouldn’t be the first time in the history of high school that girls or guys targeted an unpopular classmate and spread false rumors about them.
Except, in this case, those rumors could have led to harm to the young man.
I’m not a fan of the zero-tolerance bullying policies at schools. Defining “bullying” is problematic and very subjective. But since they never actually named the male student, I can’t see where bullying would come into play. It seems to me the school district overreacted by suspending the girls and it’s more than possible that a federal judge will agree.