Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Privileged Sociopathy

"This case is about Owen Labrie sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl. It's about how he thought about this for months. How he made a plan."
Prosecutor Catherine Ruffle, Merrimack County Superior Court, Concord, New Hampshire

"This [assault and rape of young girls] is not filtering down from college to high school. It's always been there in high school."
Elizabeth Armstrong, sociology professor, University of Michigan

"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."
St.Paul's School website, Concord, New Hampshire

"[There is the annual dance, named Screw where] the sexual desirability of younger girls is determined by their value on the screw marketplace."
"There was the common denominator of sex and sexuality as the pathway to belonging and 'welcoming' for girls."
Shamus Khan, St.Paul's School alumnus, author of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St.Paul's School
News of the allegation has left students horrified and questioning its spring rite.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

St.Paul's was inaugurated in 1856 as an Episcopal [Anglican] preparatory school. It rests on 800 hectares of bucolic countryside in the White Mountain State, on the outskirts of the capital, Concord. Girls were admitted in 1972; in total the school enrols roughly 530 students. The cost of attending St. Paul's is fairly steep; tuition, room and board clock in at $53,810 U.S. annually.

It is an Ivy League academic institution. Among its notable alumni are John Kerry, FBI director Robert Mueller, Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury comic strip; there are 13 U.S. ambassadors who graduated from the school, three Pulitzer Price winners, and scions of the Astor and Kennedy families. The school accepts the attendance of moneyed foreigners; in the 2014-15 class 17 percent originated from 25 foreign countries.

According to the defense lawyer, J.W. Carney, representing now-19-year-old Owen Labrie who was a senior at St.Paul's School in 2014, exercising the tradition of a "senior salute", interpreted as senior students' parting shot at the school related to forcefully sexually assaulting freshman female students, "The girls would be honoured and proud about this that they were the focus of the senior salute".

Owen Labrie, left, the defendant in the rape case, and J.W. Carney Jr, his lawyer, after Mr. Carney cross-examined Mr. Labrie's accuser on Thursday in Concord, N.H. Credit Pool photo by Geoff Forester

The school culture is known to encourage upperclassmen who would normally not acknowledge the presence of younger peers, as being beneath them, to access the clture of the "senior salute" where a segment of the students "take great pride" [in Labrie's own words] in having sex with younger students before leaving the school, at graduation. Owen Labrie was among them, seeing nothing untoward in forcing himself sexually on a trusting, younger student.

In an interview with a detective assigned to the case where the freshman whom he assaulted lodged a formal complaint, Owen Labrie was quick to speak of a contest atmosphere, with older boys actively competing to increase their "score" with the most girls. A tally was scribbled in indelible marker on a wall behind washing machines, which the school kept painting over. He was himself "trying to be No.1." Presumably, in preparation for the real world?

He had focused on one girl out of a list of young female students. He sent her grooming emails, gaining her interest and her trust. It is flattering for a young girl, after all, to attract the attention of an upperclassman. It is that interest in and of itself that young girls find their ego responding, not the expectation that they would be proud to be sexually assaulted. Labrie obtained a passkey, brought the girl to a campus mechanical room, and raped her.

Owen Labrie was an academic and social leader at the school. At graduation he was honoured with the Rector's Award for "selfless devotion to school activities", a ceremony that took place two days after he had assaulted the complainant, a 15-year-old student at the school. Harvard accepted his application to attend that elite academic institution. At St.Paul's he was a prefect, given special responsibility for being of assistance to younger students.

He has pleaded not guilty to ten counts, including felonious sexual assault. He never, he insists, had sex with his accuser, though their encounter, he says, was consensual. The court case with its revelations to the public arena, highlights a connection between privilege and perceptions of sexual entitlements; and for the victims, sexual predation and vulnerability, taking place in American colleges and high schools.

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