Rape ac­cu­sa­tion points to a sor­did tra­di­tion at elite Amer­i­can school


St. Paul’s School boasts a glit­ter­ing ros­ter of alumni that in­cludes U.S. sen­a­tors, U.S. con­gress­men, a No­bel lau­re­ate and the cur­rent U.S. 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 stu­dent 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 younger 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.

‘It’s not healthy’

A coun­selor who con­tacted po­lice af­ter hear­ing from the al­leged vic­tim’s mother also told an in­ves­ti­ga­tor about the tra­di­tion, the Concord Mon­i­tor re­ported last year, cit­ing a po­lice af­fi­davit. The same af­fi­davit said the school had been try­ing to ed­u­cate stu­dents against “sex­ual scor­ing.”

Pros­e­cu­tors have not in­di­cated how far back they be­lieve the “Se­nior Salute” goes.

A stu­dent leader hon­ored at grad­u­a­tion — two days af­ter the al­leged as­sault — with the Rec­tor’s Award for “self­less de­vo­tion to school ac­tiv­i­ties,” Labrie was ac­cepted to Har­vard but the school said in Septem­ber that he is no longer en­rolled. He told the de­tec­tive that he tried to ed­u­cate other stu­dents not to en­gage in “Se­nior Salute” and that the school wasn’t do­ing enough to cur­tail the tra­di­tion.

“The school has to put its foot down on this cul­ture,” Labrie is quoted as say­ing in a po­lice af­fi­davit. “It’s not healthy.”

Founded in 1856, St. Paul’s is an Epis­co­pal school nes­tled on 800 hectares on the out­skirts of down­town Concord, New Hamp­shire’s cap­i­tal. It en­rolls about 530 stu­dents and ad­mit­ted girls for the first time in 1971. Tu- ition, room and board cur­rently to­tals US$53,810.

The school be­longs to the Eight Schools As­so­ci­a­tion, a sort of Ivy League for prep schools in the U.S. north­east.

U.S. 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.

The school’s rec­tor, Michael Hirschfeld, told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an emailed state­ment that “breaches of school poli­cies or the trust upon which they are founded, are ad­dressed swiftly and ju­di­ciously.”

Hirschfeld de­clined to ad­dress ques­tions about “Se­nior Salute.”

“St. Paul’s School has poli­cies in place to en­sure that our stu­dents are safe, se­cure, and treated eq­ui­tably,” Hirschfeld’s state­ment said.

Dur­ing a speech at fam­ily week­end at St. Paul’s in Oc­to­ber 2014, Hirschfeld said 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.”

“Are we con­fronting the trans­mis­sion of un­health­ier el­e­ments of school cul­ture as ef­fec­tively as we could?” he asked rhetor­i­cally.

Labrie’s lawyer, J.W. Car­ney Jr., de­clined to com­ment, in­clud­ing on whether Labrie will tes­tify or if his de­fense would raise the is­sue of the school’s sex­ual cul­ture.

Pros­e­cu­tors say Labrie took his vic­tim by sur­prise, be­fore she could re­sist or flee, and raped her re­peat­edly. He is charged with three counts of ag­gra­vated felony sex as­sault, en­dan­ger­ing the wel­fare of a child and us­ing a com­puter to lure the girl to the on- cam­pus meet­ing.

Labrie de­nied hav­ing in­ter­course with the girl, telling po­lice that they par­tially dis­robed, kissed and touched. He also ac­knowl­edged putting on a con­dom. Labrie said the fresh­man girl was ea­ger to have sex, but the as­pir­ing di­vin­ity stu­dent said he had a “mo­ment of self-re­straint” and stopped.

“He stated it was a mo­ment of ‘ di­vine in­spi­ra­tion,’” Det. Julie Curtin wrote in her af­fi­davit.

Asked why the girl would lie about hav­ing sex with him, Labrie said it’s a “great source of pride for younger stu­dents” to have sex with se­niors.

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