Elite boarding school accused of 'winking' at longstanding tradition at center of rape case

A lawyer representing a former St. Paul’s School student on trial for rape has blamed the school for supposedly ignoring a longstanding tradition at the elite boarding school in which seniors tried to hook up with freshman girls.

Over the course of the two-week trial, it’s become clear that Owen Labrie, now 19 years old, courted a 15-year-old female freshman when he was a senior at St. Paul’s. She now claims he raped her by forcing sexual intercourse on her without consent, although he denies the two ever had sex.

Both students acknowledge some consensual touching and kissing.

The freshman was prominently featured in capital letters on a list of girls for his “senior salute” — “a school ritual in which older students proposition younger ones for as much intimacy as they can get away with: a kiss, touching, or more,” according to The New York Times.

Senior male students compete to see who could “score” with the most younger females at St. Paul’s, keeping track of the sexual encounters on an online messaging board, according to the Associated Press. Labrie allegedly told police he was “trying to be number one.”

Throughout the trial, the “senior salute” has been a focus of the defence as it seeks to establish that the girl was a willing participant in the encounter.

“There’s no question that [the accuser] knew exactly what Owen was doing by inviting her to get together,” defence attorney Jay Carney said in court during opening statements last week, according to NBC News. “Because it was a source of pride for girls at the school to be asked to participate in the ‘senior salute.'”

In closing arguments Thursday, Carney returned to this tradition, linking the “senior salute” with an alleged school environment that may have allowed the assault to happen.

Carney accused St. Paul’s “of ‘failing’ children by tolerating the ‘senior salute’ tradition,” The Boston Globe reports.

“The idea that you would wink at a tradition the senior salute represents is shocking,” Carney said, according to The Globe.

St. Paul's School Boarding Campus Sheldon Admissions BuildingVia Wikimedia CommonsSt. Paul’s School campus.

It appears that he also tried to place both students as victims in the case, describing the “senior salute” as a “tragedy that befell both these kids,” according to the Associated Press.

In the state’s closing statement, prosecutors responded to Carney’s claims about the school.

“This isn’t the fault of the culture at St. Paul’s,” prosecutor Joseph Cherniske said, according to MSNBC. “This is the defendant who manipulated that culture to get what he wanted.”

MSNBC also notes that the head of St. Paul’s “told students in a letter last summer that participating in games involving sexual solicitation would be grounds for expulsion.”

St. Paul’s School is located in Concord, New Hampshire, and is known as one of the top high schools in the US. The school posted the following statement on its website at the start of the trial:

As the Labrie trial begins, you may read or hear allegations surrounding those involved in the situation, as well as about the School. These are, indeed, allegations and not proven facts, and the judicial system will weigh them and determine how this case is ultimately resolved. We will move past this as a School community, stronger, united, and committed, as always, to ensuring our students’ safety and wellbeing. Allegations about our culture are not emblematic of our school or our values, our rules, or the people that represent our student body, alumni, faculty, and staff.

Business Insider has reached out to St. Paul’s School for any comment specifically addressing Carney’s remarks about “senior salute.”

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