Wednesday marked the second day of testimony in the trial of Owen Labrie, a 19-year-old former St. Paul’s School student accused of aggravated felonious sexual assault against a 15-year-old girl.
The young girl in question, now 16, took the stand to describe in graphic detail—with what the New York Times called “a mix of poise, sorrow and anger”—her alleged rape in May 2014 at the hands of a star student, within the context of a fraught St. Paul’s courtship tradition called the “Senior Salute” in which graduating senior boys try to “score” with as many underclassmen as possible.
“I thought it came with bad intentions because there was no prior conversation,” the teen explained to a packed courtroom regarding Labrie’s initial emailed invitation. “When I got it I was slightly annoyed and felt like it was a gross general message. I was kind of disgusted by it,” she continued. “It was just written in too condescending a speech ... It was too pretentious.”
Although she had turned down two other “Senior Salute” invitations, a friend “managed to convince me that it was innocent and Owen Labrie wouldn’t do anything against my will. He wouldn’t hurt me. He just wants to show me a cool place.”
“What a golden change of heart,” Labrie wrote in response, after she agreed.
According to the girl, who remains unidentified due to the nature of the crime, the encounter quickly escalated far beyond her comfort zone to something painful, humiliating, and completely non-consensual. According to the Times:
“I said, ‘No, no, no, keep it up here,’ ” said the girl, signaling above her waist. “I tried to be as polite as possible.”
She described Mr. Labrie “scraping” the inside of her body with his hands. Moments later, she said, he penetrated her, and with both of his hands visible near her head, she added: “It had to be his penis.”
Her voice shook as she described the encounter escalating. “I wanted to not cause a conflict,” she said. It began to hurt, she said, but she did not know what to do: “I felt like I was frozen.”
Crying on the stand, she described being in so much pain that she at one point “jerked backwards.” Labrie allegedly bit her, spit on her, and called her a “tease.”
The girl explained that she was anxious from the get-go about how she might be perceived by Labrie, a popular graduating senior. “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.”
Following the alleged rape, she exchanged friendly Facebook messages with Labrie, and didn’t disclose the full nature of what happened for several days. According to the Times, “I thought, I’m at St. Paul’s right now, this is graduation weekend, I cannot be dramatic about this,” she said.
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.’ ”
WCVB reports that the girl returned to St. Paul’s School in the fall, but left in November.
This case has sparked national attention in part because many of us, on some level, have come to expect these seamy notes of barbarism and gendered violence to exist underneath the veil of tradition at places like St. Paul’s, where wealth might be a near-constant—in fact, Labrie was there on scholarship—but true privilege and power can, as anywhere, be meted out so unevenly between sexes.
Every move this girl made in relation to Labrie—before, after, and during her alleged assault—was based on a brutally unexceptional, horribly everyday series of fears that society consciously and unconsciously promotes in order to prevent women and girls from occupying their own space in the world: the fear of being judged, the fear of being ridiculed, the fear of pain, injury, and death, and, most prevalently in her case, the fear of causing a fuss.
What Owen Labrie allegedly put this young woman through is unfortunately not remarkable—what is remarkable is the fact that she was able, at the age of 15, to process it, fight it, and publicly stand against it.
She will continue to testify today, and is later expected to face cross-examination.
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Image via AP.