STOP PUNISHING SURVIVORS & THEIR ALLIES!!
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My daughter Aela, who is 15 years old, has been suspended from school for warning her classmates about a rapist.
During the past several school years, multiple sexual assaults were reported at Cape Elizabeth High School in Maine. Aela came into the high school last year as a freshman, but very ahead of her years in her knowledge of sexual assault prevention, through her work with an advocacy organization I founded with a group of high school aged sexual assault survivors - SafeBAE.
In May of 2019, Aela spearheaded our first Sexual Assault Prevention Summit in Maine and some of her classmates learned about their rights at one of the break out sessions. Armed with this knowledge, a group of survivors and allies, including Aela, went to the June school board meeting to raise the issue. They were granted permission and each student shared a story about their assault or spoke on behalf of a survivor. They talked about the dangers they faced at the school, the lack of support from administrators and teachers, and they asked the school board to work with them to create a robust sexual assault response policy for the district.
The board responded by silencing them, including removing the live video of the meeting and replacing it with a dubbed over version. The board did not reach out to the students to offer to better support them or engage them on the issues. They did nothing.
So on September 16, my daughter and other students took matters into their own hands to protect their classmates and advocate for their rights. They posted multiple sticky notes in the girls' bathrooms saying "There's a rapist in our school and you know who it is."
The school responded by investigating the students who had spoken out, interrogating them, pressuring them to share the names of their accomplices and involved the local police...not for the crime of sexual assault, but for their simple act of speaking out. Ultimately, they were suspended for bullying, even though the post-it notes didn’t mention any names.
I’ve never been so proud of my daughter and her classmates and I’m shocked that the school isn’t celebrating the leadership of these remarkable young women and men, but is instead doing everything in their power to discourage their free speech. It is an outrage that the district is punishing survivors and whistleblowers. What kind of lesson is the school teaching these kids? To be silent? To not stand up for themselves or others?
My daughter and her classmates deserve to have their voices heard. We are asking the district to remove the suspensions and invite a sit-down with students and stakeholders to address their concerns. The school ultimately needs a comprehensive policy to make school safe for my daughter and her classmates, including anonymous reporting, Title IX training, and trauma-informed counseling.
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