Prep school alumni respond to St. Paul’s rape trial verdict

Today 19 yr old Owen Labrie was found not guilty of raping a 15 year old girl. At the trial, she spent more time on the stand than he did, said he bit her, scraped the inside of her vagina, and that she said no to him several times. The New York Times reports:

“Crying on the stand here, she described the sex acts she said he performed, saying he spit on her, and called her a tease. ‘At one point, I was in so much pain that I jerked backwards.’

Labrie said they never had sex. The jury of 9 men and 3 women convicted him for a lesser charge of aggravated sexual assault.

Labrie and his accuser both went to boarding school at St. Paul’s in Concord, N.H. where he was a soccer captain and straight A student. The night in question was part of “senior salute,” a school tradition “when older students ask younger ones to join them for a walk, a kiss, or more.” Labrie had ” a special key that prosecutors have said had been used and passed around by older boys seeking privacy.” The New York Times reports:

Still, she said she worried about making a bad impression. She was younger. He was older and popular. The senior salute was a St. Paul’s tradition.

“I didn’t want to come off as an inexperienced little girl,” she said. “I didn’t want him to laugh at me. I didn’t want to offend him.”

Afterward, she said, she felt physical pain and utter confusion, and blamed herself for the events; it took several days for her to tell anyone, in full, what happened.

“I feel like I had objected as much as I felt I could at the time. And other than that I felt so powerless,” she said, adding, “I was telling myself, ‘O.K., that was the right thing to do, you were being respectful.’

Though I blog about rape fairly often on Reel Girl, much more often then I’d like, I’ve been following the St. Paul’s story in particular. I also went to prep school at St George’s in Newport, Rhode Island from 1983 – 1985. One of the first big occasions I remember as a freshman was a tradition called Casino Night where all the new girls dressed up as bunnies. We pretended to sell candy and cigarettes. Here’s a picture of a classmate from my 1984 yearbook.

 

Here’s how the senior boys dressed for the same night. Notice anything different about their outfits or poses?

 

The boy on the left was also the senior prefect which is prep school speak for school president. I don’t think there had ever been a female student in this role when I went to the school. When I arrived there, there were 5 senior prefects: 4 males to 1 female, a typical ratio (and another example of the Smurfette Principle or Minority Feisty.)

 

The guy on the upper left is the one referred to in this picture below of my best friend and me captioned “Todd’s toys.”

 

His bequeath in the yearbook is “a 20 year sentence” because that’s what you get for rape.

I wasn’t raped at St. George’s. The bequeath is just a joke, a rape joke. The prefects pictured I remember as being mostly nice guys operating within a sexist culture that glorified treating girls like conquests. I’m posting these pictures, captions, jokes, and quotes from my yearbook to show the school’s systemic sexism in 1983. Most importantly, I don’t recall the rampant gender inequality on campus ever addressed by any teacher, parent, adviser, therapist, or any adult. Being a “bad girl,” I was expelled in 1985 (for drinking and smoking.) I hoped things had gotten better since my time, but the St. Paul’s story convinces me that rape culture remains alive and well at America’s prep schools.

A St. George’s classmate, Clymer Bardsley had a similar experience of total lack of guidance or help from any adults around gender roles and expectations. Today, also enraged after reading the news story, Clymer wrote this email to Michael Hirschfeld, the rector of St Paul’s:

I went to St. George’s School in the 80s and am a heterosexual, success-oriented, competitive guy. I remember being self-conscious about my not getting any action while some of my male friends got tons. I felt less-than, like a loser when it came to girls and sex. That feeling went with me to Middlebury College and remained into adulthood.

Nowhere in my development in the competitive worlds of New York, Newport, or Middlebury did any adult ever reinforce in me that it is alright to go at your own pace, that sex isn’t competition. The cultural norm was that sex was another place to be competitive, where you could be classified as a winner or a loser.

As rector of a now humiliated prep school, I hope you will make it your top priority to make sure that all of your kids and their families know that competition belongs on a playing field and perhaps in the classroom but nowhere near sex and relationships.

It appalls me every time I see a picture of that boy. I think, “How dare he!” And I don’t even know if he did anything wrong. What I do know is that the culture he went to school in enabled him to get into a very dicey place…

Your’s is a tough job and I don’t envy you. Protect our kids, though, the predators and their prey. They need those of us in charge to provide safety for them.

Here’s hoping you have a successful 2015-16 year!

Sincerely,
Clymer

I hope more students and alumni speak out, that these elite schools with access to so much money and power take major steps to radically change their courses, becoming the leaders they should be in stopping sexism, sexual assault, and rape on campus.

6 thoughts on “Prep school alumni respond to St. Paul’s rape trial verdict

  1. Pingback: Homo Obnoxious: Is Toxic Masculinity Really Taking Over the Country? - San Diego Free Press - KingGossip.com

  2. I married a senior prefect from St. George’s around the time that you were there or just before. He was special, not particularly athletic, although strong and very smart. He had gone on to Dartmouth College. We dated for a long time before we had “sex” , 8 or 9 months and we were in our early twenties. In fact, I really fell in love with him because our friendship was so important and the most important part of our relationship. We will be celebrating our 25th anniversary this summer. We have two wonderful children and we have dedicated our lives to teaching at another boarding school. Somehow he managed to come through all this without succumbing to the pressure of sex that clearly was an issue in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He gave many years back to St. George’s as a teacher, dorm parent and coach before we got married. I have no doubt he was a positive influence on the young boys there at the time, and maybe even Clymer Bardlsey (I think I remember my husband talking about him). I found this blog now because of the recent headlines in the Boston Globe. My husband knew everyone in that recent article about the scary happenings at St. George’s years ago. It’s important that blogs like yours are written. Keep it up.

  3. Well done! While I had a great time at those St. George’s Casino nights with those very people pictured… I’m a bit shocked looking back at the message that was being sent. As I remember it was the new girls (9/10th graders) that had to be the playboy bunnies selling cigarettes to the seniors. While it was fun to try on glamorous adult personas at that age, certainly there could have been a more empowering female version to be encouraged.

    Having just received notice from the school that there’s an investigation into sexual abuse from staff towards students from that era, perhaps it’s not so surprising that the guidance was a bit lacking overall.

    Jessica

    • Hi Jessica,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I remember you being glamorous when I was a freshman. I appreciate you writing because even now, I ask myself: was that weird? was it wrong? Another SG alumn on my FB page ( a guy) wrote that it all seemed so normal then, it was just the way things were. While Casino Night doesn’t exist anymore (I think) I hope the climate of the school is equal for girls now, and from what I hear about boarding schools in general these days, I have no reason to assume it is.

      Margot

  4. She willingly went to the tower with Labri…What was she expecting? I do not believe that she was raped. He was ready to go and look for her hearing. You don’t do that after a rape.
    Her parents should not have sent her to that college since she was not ready to deal with the world of students. This girl got rid of her own responsabilities by calling it a rape.

  5. Hi I am sooooo behind in my work having just found your site here.
    However – Hurray! I am not going mad. (Or if I am, at least I am not alone.)

    I sat on a transatlantic plane last year thinking I would watch a film: there was nothing. Boring regurgitations. Romantic gushing or muscly men fighting something or other.

    Each film had a poster (like DVD cover). Flicking through them I was hit by how many men I saw and how few women – and how the women all were very, very pretty – and either goofy or in support of the main man. They also took up a lot less space – as if he were 3x bigger. I took the statistics (lost it now – but it was massively biased men v women). Where was I represented? Nowhere. Where was I to get my inspiration? What would I learn about what I could do? (Too late to become a gorgeous supporting woman; not funny enough and too much self respect to be goofy.)

    I read my book and smouldered. But… it can only get better. People can start writing better stories and scripts. Maybe I’ll start now.

    Also – am rubbish at social media (and a bit snobby) but will get my act together now thanks to this. Can’t remain a luddite any more.
    (Do you have ‘luddites’ in America?)

    Keep going. Humans are better than this.
    Kaz

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