A rape case against a former student at the elite boarding school St. Paul’s School made its way to court Tuesday, as prosecutors tied the allegations to a longstanding school tradition called “senior salute,” The New York Times reports.
A 19-year-old former student named Owen Labrie is accused of raping a 15-year-old female freshman when he was a senior at St. Paul’s in spring 2014.
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 allegedly 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.”
Labrie allegedly courted the female student over email, The Times reports, before taking her to a mechanical room on campus whose key is passed down and shared by students. Prosecutors argued in court that the female student resisted when Labrie attempted to take her underwear off in the closet and, despite that, he then had sex with her, according to The Times.
Labrie claims he did not have intercourse with the freshman, and his lawyer appeared to be using the “senior salute” tradition as a way to cast doubt on the female student’s story.
“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 on Tuesday, 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.'”
Likewise, the prosecution argued that the “senior salute” was “the basis for Labrie’s alleged luring of the girl,” NBC reports.
“I was thinking, ‘OK, here’s a person who has paid special attention to me, how nice,'” the female student said in court Tuesday. In previous statements, she had acknowledged the “senior salute” tradition, but said she never planned to have intercourse with Labrie.
“The female agreed to meet with Labrie after the email exchange, but told investigators that ‘her understanding was that it was ‘just a hook up,’ which to her meant kissing or making out,'” The Harvard Crimson reported in September 2014, citing a police affidavit.
Labrie was accepted to Harvard as a member of the Class of 2018 and planned to study theology, but was no longer enrolled at the time of the Crimson report.
Prosecutors tried to cast doubt on Labrie’s claim that the two students never had sex.
“Prosecutors said the accuser’s underwear had been examined by investigators, who found DNA that may have been Mr. Labrie’s; in one of the online exchanges Mr. Carney read in court, the accuser asked Mr. Labrie if he had worn a condom, and he said he had,” The Times reports. Other messages discussed whether the female student was on birth control, according to NBC.
The defence, though, maintained the two students never had sexual intercourse, according to The Times. “Mr. Carney said the evidence would show that although their bodies rubbed together, their underwear was still on and that Mr. Labrie ultimately decided not to have sex with her,” The Times reported.
Explaining his decision not to have sex with the female student, Labrie told police investigators he experienced a “moment of divine inspiration,” NBC reports.
Labrie, according to NBC, “is charged with three counts of aggravated felony sex assault, four counts of misdemeanour sex assault, endangering the welfare of a child and using a computer to lure her to meet him via email and Facebook.”
St. Paul’s School is located in Concord, New Hampshire and is known as one of the top high schools in the country. The school posted the following statement on its website Monday:
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.
We have reached out to Labrie’s lawyer and St. Paul’s School for any further comment and will update with any statements we receive.
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