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!
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.