Rape Case at St. Paul’s School Raises Concerns About Culture


The culture of an elite boarding school in New Hampshire is at the center of a rape case involving a former male student who was accused of raping a female freshman during his senior year in 2014.

According to prosecutors, Owen Labrie led the girl to the roof of a building on the campus of St. Paul's School last year as part of a ceremony known as the "Senior Salute," in which seniors attempt to have sex with underclassmen, or have "as much intimacy as they can get away with." Labrie has pleaded not guilty to the charges, insisting that the pair had consensual sexual contact which did not lead to intercourse, writes Jess Bidgood for The New York Times.

St. Paul's School Rector Michael Hirschfeld acknowledged the sexual assault allegations in a number of letters written over the last year to students, parents and alumni. In those letters, Hirschfeld said that he would take a closer look into life on campus that had led to the development of "Senior Salute."

"While the allegation and the people it involves will not be a topic of conversation at the school, the broader issues it raises – the use of social media to perpetuate unhealthy relationships, the ‘hook-up' culture and unsanctioned student ‘traditions' – will be," Hirschfeld wrote on Aug. 7, 2014, a month after Owen Labrie was charged with rape and other felonies.

While school officials have not commented on the case, Hirschfeld's letters outlined the steps taken by the school. Once Labrie had been arrested, school officials announced they would expel anyone who participated "in any game, ‘tradition,' or practice of sexual solicitation or sexual conquest under any name," as well as those found in possession of keys or access cards that they should not have. It is thought that Labrie used a key shared by members of the senior class to gain access to restricted areas.

Author Shamus Khan, who graduated from the school in 1996, wrote a book pertaining to the school which delved into a number of traditions carried out on campus. While the book does not mention "Senior Salute," it does discuss "newb nights," where upperclass female students force the new girls to discuss their sexual activity, sometimes with boys present. He also mentions the use of sex as a sort of currency at the school.

"If a desirable older boy is interested in a new girl, this means a lot for her status and the status of her dorm," Khan wrote.

The school is considered to be a top boarding school as a member of the Eight Schools Association, which is considered comparable to the Ivy League, writes Peter Jacobs for Business Insider.

Students are expected to return to campus after the Labor Day holiday.

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