Boarding School Rape Trial Highlights a Dark Culture of 'Sexual Scoring' 


Owen Labrie, now 19, is facing trial today for the alleged rape of a 15-year-old classmate at elite New Hampshire boarding school St. Paul’s in May 2014.

The assault allegedly took place during a tradition authorities say was called the “Senior Salute,” in which graduating senior boys attempt to take the virginities of younger girls before graduating. According to the Associated Press, Labrie admitted that this was not the only competitive sexual practice amongst his peers; they also kept a running tally on a laundry room wall to determine who had “scored” the most. He told the detective that he was “trying to be number one.”

The Washington Post reports on the details of the alleged rape, an earlier version of which initially surfaced last year:

According to the affidavit obtained by the Monitor, Labrie sent the freshman girl a “senior salute” email asking her to “hook up” with him four days before graduation. She initially declined, but then agreed on the understanding that “hook up” referred to kissing. Two days later, on May 30, 2014, Labrie allegedly took the girl to the top of the school’s math and science building.
They kissed, then Labrie allegedly began to pull off her underwear. She resisted several times and twice told him “no,” according to the affidavit.
The sexual assault nurse examiner at Concord Hospital found that the alleged victim had “a laceration that would be consistent with penetration having occurred,” the Monitor reported.

An affidavit obtained by the Concord Monitor last year shows that the defendant sent several Facebook messages to the girl following the alleged incident, writing that “for so many reasons we need to make sure people don’t think the wrong thing,” “people have been saying some scary things considering we never had sex,” and “I have to trust you’ve got my back and you make sure the right people know what’s actually up.” A mutual friend, however, told police at the time that Labrie did have sex with her, and asked the friend not to tell anyone. He said that “Owen Labrie knows that what he did was not legal and explained this was because (the girl) was too young,” the affidavit states.

Charges include three counts of aggravated felony sex assault and endangering the welfare of a child; the defendant is pleading not guilty. According to prosecutors, Labrie “took his victim by surprise, before she could resist or flee, and raped her repeatedly.” According to Labrie, who has retained at least three lawyers, the pair almost had intercourse but never did. The aspiring divinity student told detectives that a “moment of ‘divine inspiration’” caused him to stop.

When asked why the freshman girl would lie about this, he replied that it’s a “great source of pride for younger students” to have sex with seniors. In a police affidavit, Labrie, who was a prefect educated in statutory rape laws and consensual sex, told detectives that he had been pushing back against the “Senior Salute” tradition, pointing his finger at St. Paul’s School. “The school has to put its foot down on this culture,” he’s quoted as saying. “It’s not healthy.”

At this week’s trial, prosecutors are expected to call several witnesses to testify on the boarding school’s sexual culture. The jury will also pay a visit to the picturesque school, which belongs to the Eight Schools Association, a prep school variation on the Ivy League (others include Hotchkiss, Choate Rosemary Hall, and Phillips Exeter Academy). Annual tuition, room and board costs $53,810.

Last year’s affidavit states: “St. Paul’s School has advised that ‘sexual scoring’ and ‘the scoring culture’ is a hot topic and something that they have been trying to educate against.” During a speech at a family weekend last fall, the school’s rector Michael Hirschfield told parents that the sexual assault allegation “has provided us with an important opportunity to reconsider elements of our shared life that do not appear in our strategic plan.” Hirschfield told the Associated Press that “breaches of school policies or the trust upon which they are founded, are addressed swiftly and judiciously,” but declined to directly address the “Senior Salute.”

Labrie was set to attend Harvard last fall—he was honored at graduation, days after the alleged assault, with the Rector’s Award for “selfless devotion to school activities”—but is no longer enrolled. Secretary of State John Kerry is a graduate of St. Paul’s, as are 13 U.S. ambassadors, three Pulitzer Prize winners, and members of the Astor and Kennedy families. Women have been admitted only since 1971.

This is the sort of place that the past and future leaders of our country come of age. This is where they first discover how to use privilege and position to manipulate, distort, and control. This rape allegation, and the way it’s been zealously handled by the defendant and his team of lawyers, is unsurprising in every way.

This is what is wrong with the world, really.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Image via Associated Press.

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