Thursday Reads: Elite Boarding School Rape Culture

St. Paul's School in Concord, NH

St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH

Good Morning!!

I’ve been following the rape trial that is going on right now in New Hampshire. The testimony of the alleged victim of a rape at St. Paul’s School suggests that this exclusive private boarding school has an educational environment suffused with sexism, misogyny, and rape culture. We’ve all heard about the many colleges and universities where rape has been ignored and minimized. Is rape culture also widespread in secondary schools around the country? Probably, but at St. Paul’s the acceptance of sexual assault is apparently quite explicit.

I’m not sure how to frame this, so I’m going to begin with some early stories about the trial and go from there.

Associated Press: Rape case points to sordid tradition at elite prep school.

Aerial view of St. Paul's School

Aerial view of St. Paul’s School

St. Paul’s School boasts a glittering roster of alumni that includes senators, congressmen, a Nobel laureate and the current secretary of state. The elite prep school also allegedly has a sordid tradition of sexual conquest where graduating boys try to take the virginity of younger girls before getting their diplomas.

Details of a practice authorities say was called the “Senior Salute” were spelled out in stark terms by a former prefect at the New Hampshire school who is charged with raping a 15-year-old girl on the roof of a campus building in May 2014.

Owen Labrie, now 19, has pleaded not guilty to several felonies. When his trial begins Monday, prosecutors are expected to call current and former students to testify about the sexual culture at one of the country’s most selective boarding schools.

Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, talked openly about the tradition when he was interviewed by Concord police. On a campus where upperclassmen studiously avoid their younger peers in most settings, Labrie told a detective some students “take great pride” in having sex with older students before they leave school.

Labrie also told the detective of a contest where boys compete to “score” with the most girls, keeping a running tally written in indelible marker on a wall behind washing machines. The school kept painting over the scoreboard so it eventually was moved online. He acknowledged to the detective he was “trying to be number one,” the detective wrote.

The New Chapel at St. Paul's School

The New Chapel at St. Paul’s School

The school administrators were well aware of this “tradition” and, according to one counselor, were “trying to educate students against ‘sexual scoring.'”

Excuse me? That sounds pretty weak. What happened to actually banning a practice and explicitly policing the behavior at time time it “traditionally” takes place?

Labrie was an outstanding student who had been accepted to Harvard until the rape accusations surfaced. Harvard now says he’s no longer listed as a student.

Labrie’s defense attorney is well-known and expensive Boston lawyer J.W. Carney, who also defended notorious gangster Whitey Bulger.

Some background on St. Paul’s School:

Founded in 1856, St. Paul’s is an Episcopal school nestled on 2,000 pastoral acres on the outskirts of downtown Concord, New Hampshire’s capital. It enrolls about 530 students and admitted girls for the first time in 1971. Tuition, room and board currently clocks in at $53,810.

The school belongs to the Eight Schools Association, a sort of Ivy League for prep schools that includes Choate Rosemary Hall and Hotchkiss in Connecticut, Phillips Academy Andover, Deerfield Academy and Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

Secretary of State John Kerry graduated from St. Paul’s in 1962, alongside former FBI Director Robert Mueller. Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau is an alum as are 13 U.S. ambassadors, three Pulitzer Prize winners, two World Series of Poker winners, actor Judd Nelson and sons of the Astor and Kennedy families, according to the school’s website.

The school also has a robust international presence: 17 percent of the 2014-15 class came from 25 countries and notable alums include Bernard Makihara, the former CEO of the Mitsubishi  Corporation, and Edmund Maurice Burke Roche, a conservative member of the British Parliament and the maternal grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Owen Labrie's mugshot

Owen Labrie’s mugshot

Labrie told police that he didn’t have sex with the alleged victim. Instead, he claims “in a moment of restraint” and “divine inspiration” he decided not to have intercourse with the 15-year-old girl even though she was “eager” to do so. He also explained that the girl lied because “it’s a “great source of pride for younger students” to have sex with seniors.

WTF?! Then why would she go through the nightmare of a trial in she knows she’ll be humiliated and shamed?

The Boston Globe: Prosecutor: St. Paul’s rape suspect talked about ‘slaying’ girls as part of hookup contest.

Prosecutors say Labrie arranged for a tryst with the girl at St. Paul’s School in a secluded machine room in a school building, prosecutors say he took it further than she wanted it to go.

took the stand late Tuesday afternoon, answering questions about her upbringing and how she ended up at St. Paul’s, where she enrolled as a freshman in 2013.

Today, the girl is testifying about what led to that night in the machine room. She initially rebuffed his message, thinking it was a form letter he sent to lots of girls.

Owen Labrie had been making a list of girls to hook up with months before a 15-year-old accused him of sexually assaulting her at their elite New England prep school, but her name was the only one written in capital letters, a prosecutor said Tuesday….

There was a game above it all: a storied hookup contest among the school’s upperclassmen called the “Senior Salute.” Labrie and his friends talked about “slaying” girls, with April and May referred to as SLAYpril and SLAY, Deputy Merrimack County Attorney Catherine J. Ruffle said.

“This case is about Owen Labrie sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl,” Ruffle said in her opening statement. “It’s about how he thought about this for months.

Prosecutor Catherine Ruffle delivers her opening arguments against Owen Labrie to the jury in the Merrimack County Superior Court, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Concord, N.H.(AP Photo/Jim Cole, Pool)

Prosecutor Catherine Ruffle delivers her opening arguments against Owen Labrie to the jury in the Merrimack County Superior Court, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Concord, N.H.(AP Photo/Jim Cole, Pool)

The girl testified on Tuesday and Wednesday and she was reportedly very emotional, describing her confusion, fear, and lack of control over what happened; but she also described how she felt responsible for what happened and, tried to soothe Labrie’s feelings. She didn’t want to cause an uproar, because her older sister was graduating from the school two days later and she (the victim) didn’t want to make it all about her.

NBC News: St. Paul’s School Rape Trial: Accuser Tells Court ‘I Felt Like I Couldn’t Say No.’

A 16-year-old girl who says she was raped at a prestigious New Hampshire prep school returned to the witness stand on Wednesday, recounting a secret date with an older boy that turned suddenly aggressive.

The girl described her confusion as he groped her in secluded room of a campus building at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire in May 2014. “I felt like I was frozen,” she said through tears as she described the accused, Owen Labrie, kissing and biting her and trying to pull down her underwear.

As the groping continued, she said, “I felt like I had no control. I felt like I couldn’t say no.”

A little later, the girl said, she did say no. But as the alleged attack continued, she said she tried to zone out, looking at the ceiling and trying to ignore the pain. That continued through what she described as unwanted sexual intercourse, she said.

“I didn’t want to believe that this was happening to me,” the girl said under questioning from Deputy Merrimack County Attorney Catherine Ruffle.

Recent St. Paul's School graduate Owen Labrie, right, stands with one of his lawyers, J.W. Carney, as jurors view the school grounds, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, Pool)

Recent St. Paul’s School graduate Owen Labrie, right, stands with one of his lawyers, J.W. Carney, as jurors view the school grounds, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, Pool)

More from the Manchester Union Leader: 

The girl, who was 15 at the time, said Labrie, then 18, sent her what she considered to be a “senior salute,” an invitation from a senior to a girl in the lower classes for a meeting that could result in as little as a kiss or as much as sexual intercourse….

The young girl Labrie was pursuing said she knew of the tradition because her older sister was also a senior at St. Paul’s in 2014.

So her first reaction was to refuse, but Labrie sent an envoy, a friend of the girl, to plead his case and she succumbed to the flattery and agreed to meet him.

Part of the reason for agreeing was his claim to have keys to one of the buildings whose roof was off limits to students. She liked the idea of being able to see a view not available to most students.

She said she expected there would be kissing involved “but that’s all.”

But she was wrong.

She said he took her to the building rooftop, but then back inside the unlighted mechanical room.  There he started by kissing her, then, despite her efforts to stop him, he removed her bra and pants and sexually assaulted her.

She said at one point he laughed and said: “You are such a tease.”

When it was over, she said, “I couldn’t believe what had just happened to me.”

The girl said when Labrie was finished with her he left her  get dressed and go back to her dorm, where she met up with her girlfriends and told them what happened.

Deputy Merrimack County Attorney Catherine Ruffle had the girl read copies of email and Facebook messages between Labrie and herself, messages that were projected on a large screen for jurors.

The girl explained that her friends dictated the messages she sent to Labrie about him using protection.

St. Paul's School

St. Paul’s School

The text messages the girl sent to Labrie are the center of the defense case that she “was a “willing participant” in the sex. I’ll get to that in a minute. First a few more details on the assault from MSNBC:

“I felt like I was frozen,” the accuser said.

“I felt so scared,” she added. “I had no idea what was going on. I had never been put in a situation like that.”

Her second day on the witness stand, the girl continued recounting the events that led to the alleged assault….

The girl said that she and Labrie stood briefly on the roof, and that later, inside an industrial area. She said that the two began kissing and removed some clothing when Labrie became too aggressive, biting her chest and forcing himself on her.

The girl grew emotional as she recounted the intimate details of the encounter, responding to questions from the prosecutor as her family looked on from reserved seating, and telling the court that she didn’t kick or scream as the encounter went on.

“In that moment, I wasn’t strong enough,” the girl said.

She later told the court she said ‘no’ three times. “I don’t know how I could have made it more clear,” she said.

Owen Labrie's defense attorney Jaw W. Carney, left, gives his opening arguments as prosecutor Catherine Ruffle, lower right and Judge Larry Smukler listen Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, N.H. Labrie is charged with raping a 15-year-old freshman at St. Paul's School on May 30, 2014, as part of a tradition known as the "Senior Salute" days before he graduated. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Owen Labrie’s defense attorney Jaw W. Carney, left, gives his opening arguments Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

The cross examination began yesterday and continues today. As I said above, the biggest problem for the prosecution is that this young girl was very focused on not making a scene or being “bitchy.” She was seemingly very concerned about upsetting Labrie or generally calling attention to herself. From the MNSNBC article cited above:

Still, the girl was pressed by prosecutor Catherine Ruffle, the Deputy Merrimack County Attorney, about an email exchange she had with Labrie after the incident, in which Labrie described her as “an angel.”

Reading from copies of the messages displayed on a courtroom projector, the girl told the court that she replied: “You’re quite an angel yourself, but would you mind keeping the events of this evening to yourself for now?”

Asked why she had called Labrie an angel, the girl said she was trying not to upset him.

“It was almost like I was sticking to the script that he was offering,” she said of his email. “I thought it would be rude otherwise to ignore it, or it would cause him to approach me again if I ignored it. I was afraid of him coming after me again.”

In subsequent messages over Facebook, the girl told the court, she asked Labrie if he wore a condom and he assured her he had, and inquired if she was taking birth control medication.

Owen Labrie in court

Owen Labrie in court

Just one last article, from The Boston Globe: Why was the prep school girl so nice to the man she says raped her?

To the defense attorneys of Owen Labrie, the now-19-year-old man accused of raping the girl last year on the campus of their prestigious New England prep school, the message and others like it are obvious evidence that she was not raped, that she was a willing participant in what happened in that dark room. Why else would she chat and giggle and seemingly flirt in some cases if what happened was rape and not a consensual encounter between two teens?

The explanation of the girl, now 16 and on the witness stand in a Concord, New Hampshire courtroom: She didn’t want to offend him. She was trying to be polite. She didn’t want to be “bitchy,” or a “withering little girl.”

And so her chats replying to him in cutesy French phrases, lamenting the loss of her favorite earring, calling him a good guy, paint a blurry picture of how she really felt after what she now calls a rape.

Personally, I can relate to what this girl says. She was only 15 and says she was a virgin.

Part of the reason why she agreed to Labrie’s emailed invitation for a “Senior Salute” on May 30, 2014 in the first place was out of fear she was too rude when she initially rebuffed him.

“I felt bad I’d sent such an attacking response back,” said the girl, who is not naming. “I thought that I was rude and that I was wrong and I had been wrong about everything.”

The girl knew the reason Labrie sent her a flowery email asking to spend time with her. Senior Salute was well known on campus as an attempt to hook up with as many people as possible before graduation. Prosecutors said Labrie and his friends made it a game, competing to see how many girls they could “slay” before they left school.

During the assault itself, she said, she was still thinking about him and his feelings. Right after telling him that no, she didn’t want his face between her legs, and pulling his face away, she laughed.

“I wanted to be easygoing,” she said. “I wanted to not cause a conflict. I didn’t want to come off as bitchy or … I didn’t want to cause any trouble.”

Wincing, walking back to her dorm, she told no one. She wouldn’t even tell her best friend, whom she sat with immediately after the encounter, what really happened. She didn’t want to burden her with her issues.

As she saw her sister graduate, and took her exams, she kept quiet. Her family wasn’t on campus to worry about her and her problems, they were there to celebrate her sister.

Read the rest at the link, if you can. I’ve already quoted too much.

So . . . What do you think? As always, this is an open thread.

36 Comments on “Thursday Reads: Elite Boarding School Rape Culture”

  1. NW Luna says:

    That poor young girl. All that conditioning and training to “be nice, smile, don’t get him angry, don’t be a bitch…” And then he keeps ignoring her “No” repeatedly, bullying her, physically aggressive, while she freezes in panic and disbelief. Of course that’s how it happened.

    Makes me furious that assaults like this are still commonplace, that school administrators still tolerate the boys will be boys bullshit, and that the courageous women who go to court are psychologically assaulted all over again.

    • bostonboomer says:

      That’s the same thing I thought. Girls are conditioned to be nice, polite, and accommodating, and as a result they are easy targets for exploitation.

  2. NW Luna says:

    OT, but this is good news:

    The regional arm of the federal labor relations board has again determined that the votes cast by Seattle University adjuncts on forming a union should be counted. The university says it plans to appeal.

    At issue is the question of whether adjunct faculty members — also known as contingent faculty — can form a union through Service Employees International Union 925. Contingent faculty members, who make up more than 50 percent of the faculty but work on contract and are not on track to earn tenure, say they want to form a union because of concerns about pay and working conditions.

    Adjunct faculty members cast votes on the union issue last summer, but the ballots were impounded before they were counted when Seattle University appealed the election to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing the school should be exempt from NLRB jurisdiction because it is a religiously operated institution.

    Ever since, the two sides have gone back and forth with the regional and national branches of the NLRB, with adjuncts trying to win approval for the votes to be counted and Seattle University filing appeals to block the union’s actions. In the most recent decision, NLRB regional director Ronald Hooks found that Seattle University is not a church-operated institution, as defined by a previous NLRB case, NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago. Hooks also found that Seattle University has not proved that any of its faculty are responsible for performing specific religious functions.

    • Fannie says:

      I’ll never forget what it was like to be a child and go to the Charity Hospital, and have my tonsils out. Whites to the left, and blacks to the right. Take a number and sit and wait all day. Good Lord.

  3. dakinikat says:

    BB, I watched some of the news coverage on this too. It just is beyond the pale that so many years after the women’s movement has focused on issues of violence against women that we still have to prove that it’s rape and that so many still think that women ask for it or lead men on or that they give me the wrong signals. Until parents and institutions educate young men, it will never stop

  4. janicen says:

    Couple things: First, I found it striking that the names of celebrated graduates of St. Paul’s School mentioned were all men’s names. Not one woman’s name mentioned. Maybe there was one woman among the 13 ambassadors mentioned, but it’s rather telling to me that the men who attend St. Paul’s have their futures mapped out for them but no so much for the women.

    Second, THIS IS WHY WE HAVE A LEGAL AGE OF CONSENT!!!!! It doesn’t matter what she said in emails after the fact, she was a minor! Do we accuse young children who are molested by adults of consenting because they are nice to the adults later? A can’t believe that the judge is even allowing this defense.

    Apologies for the caps, I’m not yelling at anyone here, I’m yelling at the defense team and anyone else who considers her courtesy to her rapist to be implying consent. She was a child in the eyes of the law and therefore incapable of giving consent.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Good points! New Hampshire’s age of consent is 16, so it was at least statutory rape. Labrie claims there was no intercourse. I don’t know what effect that has legally.

      Actually some do accuse children of not only consenting, but also initiating sexual activity–even some judges. Remember that judge in Montana?

      • janicen says:

        I thought I had read in one of the articles in the NYT that she had been penetrated and that she thought it had to have been his penis since his hands were on her upper body. And that it hurt.

        • bostonboomer says:

          That’s her side of the story, and I’m sure it’s true. Somewhere in my post, there’s a quote from him saying at the last minute, he changed his mind because of “divine inspiration.”

          • janicen says:

            Oh yeah, I did read that but I guess I immediately discounted it. What b.s.!

          • bostonboomer says:

            I thought so too. That’s what he told the police. I doubt if that’s what he told his schoolmates. I wonder if any of them have been interviewed?

          • NW Luna says:

            Changed his story at the last moment because of realizing he was in deep shit, but if he does the Josh Duggar thing and pretends humbly to appeal to a deity, he might get off.

    • Fannie says:

      How sad is that! He’s lived a good life, and done good for others, and tried to keep the peace.

    • NW Luna says:

      Whatever time is left him, may he have physical and mental ease, content that he has done much good in the world, and have a peaceful death.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    A couple of sick links that I left out of the post:

    Amid Rape Trial, Students Downplay Elite Prep School’s Hookup Culture

    “It never seemed like a rape game,” say graduates of “Senior Salute” laundry room sex scoreboard.

    St. Paul’s School Students, Graduates: You’re Just Hating

    As a rape case roils the elite prep school, students take to social media to say critics are just jealous

    • NW Luna says:

      As to the first, that’s because all their sex is via rape.

      The second, that’s because (a) entitled rich boys think they are never wrong. And because (b) yes, many of us DO hate rape.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Now that he has been outed as an adulterer, Josh Duggar is very sorry.

    Josh Duggar after Ashley Madison hack: ‘I have been the biggest hypocrite ever’

    “I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife,” Duggar said in a statement Thursday….

    “I brought hurt and a reproach to my family, close friends and the fans of our show with my actions that happened when I was 14-15 years old, and now I have re-broken their trust,” Duggar said….

    “As I am learning the hard way, we have the freedom to choose to our actions, but we do not get to choose our consequences. I deeply regret all hurt I have caused so many by being such a bad example,” Duggar said in his statement Thursday. “I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”


    • bostonboomer says:

      I wonder if Josh and his wife will make another tour of the right wing media. I hope she dumps him and gets the kids away from him.

    • NW Luna says:

      Boo hoo hoo.

      I agree, his wife should grab the kids and get the hell outta there.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    Florida Woman Who Says She Alerted FBI About Jared Fogle’s Activities: ‘He’s a Monster’

  8. Fannie says:

    BB, I haven’t been paying attention to this rape case, thank you for sharing. It’s only getting worst.

    • Yes BB thank you for the post. This is one story I was avoiding even though it was so important. I need to get up to date on the specifics. It looks like something that we will be talking about for some time.

  9. NW Luna says:

    I’m tired of being kind to creepy men in order to stay safe

    …or not safe.

    My Mum once told me her biggest regret was that she’d brought her daughters up to be so polite. It happened after one of my little sisters came home in tears. A “friendly” man at the train station had started making comments about her legs and asking if she had a boyfriend. “I really wanted to ignore him, but I didn’t want to be rude! I didn’t know what to do!” she wept. She was 14 at the time.

    There’s obviously something about a quiet coach and a station buffet that encourages pervy passengers. British Transport Police have just announced that the number of sexual offences on trains and at stations has gone up by 25% in the past year, and is now at record levels. Any travelling woman who has ever sunk down in her seat and opened her book, only to be tapped on the shoulder and asked “What are you reading, then?” will be surprised that the numbers aren’t higher.

    We’ve all been bothered by persistent guys who pester us relentlessly, believing themselves to be entitled to our company and more. We’re under pressure to be polite and manage their expectations. Ignored men are angry men, and it’s horrible to sit silently while a man shouts at a packed carriage: “She thinks she’s too good to talk to me!”

    When it comes to responding to harassers, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t – and sometimes it gets to the point when dealing with entitled idiots is so exhausting that you feel safer staying at home.

    • bostonboomer says:

      So true. And what are you supposed to do about the creepy men who keep moving close to you no matter how many times you move away? And the ones who grab you in a crowded car where lots of people are standing and you can’t tell who did it?

      • janicen says:

        Hell, something similar just happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I was sitting at the bar in a restaurant, my daughter was next to me and my husband next to her. On my other side was a fifty-something dude who started to talk to me. Of course, I was responding politely but using body language I stayed partially turned toward my family. But the dude persisted. Before I knew it he somehow turned the chat to be about sex. It wasn’t overt, it was actually very subtle but it made me uncomfortable especially since he knew full well that I was sitting there with my daughter and my husband! I really wanted to tell the pig to shut the fuck up but I didn’t want to cause a scene. I managed to completely turn my back to him and ignore him from that point on but I felt somehow that I failed because I didn’t call him out for his presumptuous rudeness. I came away feeling victimized and it happened right out in the open.

        • bostonboomer says:

          That’s awful! Did you tell your husband?

          • janicen says:

            Yes but he was not sympathetic. He can be an asshole sometimes. He sort of rolled his eyes as if to say, “That’s what you get for talking to men…” Because even the most liberal, feminist, sexist-hating, men can still be douche bags when it comes to their wives talking to other men even in as social a setting as it gets, sitting at a bar. My daughter was appropriately horrified.

  10. adrienne says:

    Where has she stated being a virgin? Was it in the news somewhere?

    • bostonboomer says:

      Yes, the articles I read said it was her first experience of being penetrated. Does it matter?