2 big questions need to be answered in an elite boarding school rape case

The trial of a former St. Paul’s School student accused of raping a 15-year-old female freshman when he was a senior is wrapping up Thursday, as both sides give their closing arguments.

Over the course of the past two weeks, two central questions have emerged as to what exactly happened when Owen Labrie, now 19 years old, invited the female student to take part in a “senior salute” — a longstanding school tradition where older students would sexually proposition younger ones.

The jury will have to decide whether the two had sexual intercourse. Moreover, as Emily Bazelon points out in The New York Times, several charges hinge largely on whether the girl communicated her lack of consent if the jury finds they did have intercourse.

The case is attracting national attention due to the prominence of St. Paul’s, an elite boarding school often compared to an Ivy League university. Labrie was set to study theology at Harvard University after he graduated in 2014, although his acceptance appears to have been rescinded following the rape charges.

While both sides acknowledge there was some consensual sexual activity — some kissing and touching — they have presented contradicting stories as to whether penetration took place.

The alleged rape victim claims she resisted when Labrie attempted to take her underwear off and, despite that, he then had sex with her. She testified in court last week that she said “no” multiple times during their encounter.

“She also testified that Mr. Labrie had scraped inside her vagina with his fingers, licked her there and penetrated her with what she believed was his penis,” The New York Times reports.

Labrie denied having sexual intercourse with the girl in an interview with police in June 2014, as well as in court this week. Explaining his decision not to have sex with the female student, Labrie told police investigators he experienced a “moment of divine inspiration” after putting on a condom, NBC News reports. In court, he said, “I thought to myself, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this,'” according to The Times.

Additionally, defence attorney Jay Carney “asked Mr. Labrie if he had put his fingers, his tongue or his penis under the girl’s underwear at any point. To each body part, Mr. Labrie said no,” The Times reports.

In closing arguments Thursday, Carney argued that the female student may have mistaken dry humping for penetration.

Owen Labrie St. Paul's School MugshotScreenshot Via YouTube, ABC NewsOwen Labrie’s mug shot.

If the jury believes that the two students had sexual intercourse, Labrie will likely face at least a misdemeanour charge, as the female student was 15 years old, and unable to give consent due to her age. However, Labrie is also charged with several felonies that hinge on whether the girl indicated that she did not consent to the acts.

“So the crucial question for the jury may well be: Did Labrie know, or should he have known, that the girl did not freely consent? That seems like the right question to ask,” Bazelon writes in The New York Times.

Here’s how Bazelon explains why there may be confusion over consent in the two student’s sexual encounter:

On cross-examination, the alleged victim conceded that she lifted up her arms so Labrie could take her shirt off and raised her hips so he could pull off her shorts. She also told the police, when they interviewed her soon after the incident, that “other than me saying no to the first part, I don’t think he would have known for a fact that I would not want to do that.” At trial, she explained, “I wanted to not cause a conflict,” and “I felt like I was frozen.” Labrie testified, “I thought she was having a great time.”

In the state’s closing argument Thursday, prosecutors reiterated the various ways the female student allegedly signalled to Labrie that she did not consent to sexual intercourse:

The jury will begin to discuss the Owen Labrie case Thursday afternoon.

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