Prep-school rape trial: Read statements from the victim’s family, St. Paul’s School, and Harvard College

–REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files

After the verdict in Owen Labrie’s trial, the victim and her family, St. Paul’s School, and Harvard College, where Labrie was headed, all released separate statements. The elite Concord, New Hampshire prep school that Labrie and the victim attended at the time of the crime also sent a letter to the school community.

Jurors found Labrie, 19, guilty of three misdemeanor counts of having sex with an underage person, but acquitted him of more serious sexual assault charges. Labrie was also found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and a felony count of using Facebook and email to solicit the girl.

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Here is the full statement from the girl, now 16, and her family:

“Our family, like many others, have read several articles on campus sexual assault in recent years with concern as our daughters progressed through school. But never in our worst nightmares could we have imagined that we would be experiencing this issue firsthand with our 15-year-old daughter during her first year of high school. The reality of this national epidemic has hit home and there is overwhelming sadness for the large number of students suffering from sexual violence everyday in this nation.

Today, a measure of justice has been served for victims of sexual violence. While he was not convicted on all charges, Owen Labrie was held accountable in some way by a jury of his peers for crimes he committed against our daughter. This conviction requires him to take ownership for his actions and gives him the opportunity to reflect upon the harm he has caused. There is no joy in this outcome, however, as our daughter can never get back what she has lost nor can St. Paul’s School ever be our community again.

We still feel betrayed that St. Paul’s School allowed and fostered a toxic culture that left our daughter and other students at risk to sexual violence. We trusted the school to protect her and it failed us. We continue to feel anger and disappointment for the lack of character and integrity that the young men of St. Paul’s School showed, laughing and joking with Owen Labrie at graduation about “slaying’’ our daughter. Both the school and these young men should bear the shame of these crimes along with Owen Labrie.

While we stood together as a family through this process, it was our young daughter who took the stand to speak the truth and request justice. We admire her bravery in coming forward and speaking out in the face of great adversity. It is truly her courage that has made this measure of justice possible today.

We would be remiss not to express our deepest thanks and appreciation to the Concord Police, the Concord Child Advocacy Center, and the Merrimack County Prosecutor’s Office for their tireless efforts to pursue the truth and secure justice in this case. They treated our family with dignity and respect during this long ordeal and we are eternally grateful for their service.

We also would like to thank the court and its staff, for preforming their civic duties, the jury for its service, which required spending time away from their families, extended family and friends, for traveling here or otherwise sending their support, and for the complete strangers who offered us support and words of encouragement through the most difficult process of our lives.’’

Here is the full statement from St. Paul’s School:

“We must first commend the remarkable moral courage and strength demonstrated by the young woman who has suffered through this nightmare. Her resolve and unwavering commitment to the truth have been inspiring to us and to many outside our School community. We can only hope that time will bring some measure of healing and comfort to both her and her family.

The entire St. Paul’s School community has been deeply affected by this incident. It is our responsibility to ensure that our students live and learn together in a community that is built on respect, caring, and support for one another. Anything short of that cannot and will not be accepted. We will continue to focus on teaching our students our core values – that they live honorably, respectfully, and never forget to be kind – and that they learn and grow in ways that lead to productive and respectful relationships throughout their entire lives.’’

Michael G. Hirschfeld ’85

Rector, St. Paul’s School

Here is the letter to the St. Paul’s School community from Michael G. Hirschfeld, rector, and James M. Waterbury Jr., board of trustees president:

Dear St. Paul’s School Community,

By now you have likely learned of the verdicts in the trial of Owen Labrie ’14. The trial has been deeply painful for all of us in the St. Paul’s community, but especially for the young woman who has suffered through this nightmare. From the beginning – some 15 months ago – to the conclusion of the trial, she and her family have shown remarkable moral courage and strength. Her resolve and unwavering commitment to the pursuit of the truth have been inspiring to us and to many outside our School community.

In June of 2014, when we first learned about these disturbing events, and informed you of the arrest of Owen Labrie, we pledged that we would use this case and the issues raised by it to learn more about ourselves and to make our School better. We began more than a year ago by conducting a comprehensive review of the safety of our School environment and of our reporting procedures to ensure they continue to meet the highest standards. We also made policy changes and enhanced programming in several key areas to further support our students in making St. Paul’s the healthiest residential learning environment possible. In addition, we invited independent experts and researchers to our campus to advise us on the best ways to strengthen the trust, respect and understanding that is so critical for a tight-knit, fully residential community like ours. More information about the speakers and the topic areas they covered can be accessed on the “From the Rector’’ page of our website under the “Focus on Healthy Community’’ section.

With advice and guidance from a team of public health professionals, we developed and began implementing additional programming to strengthen our community through enhanced education and prevention efforts in such areas as harassment, bullying, gender-based violence, and substance abuse. Our work continues as we strive to strengthen our Living in Community curriculum, develop new bystander intervention training for all students and heads of house, and conduct a review of School policies and practices surrounding student conduct and discipline. Our expectation is that these efforts will allow our faculty, staff, administration, and students to continue to be engaged in critical introspection with an eye to improving how we live together.

The topics raised by the trial have been an area of focus for the School for some time, and these same issues have been highlighted for the broader St. Paul’s community through testimony in court and recently in the press. To the frustration of many, the public discussion of the trial over the past two weeks has inaccurately portrayed St. Paul’s School and our culture. The allegations about our culture are not emblematic of our School or our values, our rules, or our student body, alumni, faculty, and staff.

Many terms, including “senior salute’’ and “score’’ that are part of the student vernacular, have been discussed as part of the trial. These terms, and the behaviors they suggest, have and will continue to be addressed by the School community. There is no place for inappropriate and hurtful behavior that disrespects any member of our School. Conduct that is damaging to the fabric of our community and inconsistent with our values has never been – and will not be – tolerated.

The Rector first heard about the “senior salute’’ in the spring of 2013. It is not a decades-old “tradition’’ as some have alleged. As you have learned throughout the trial, the phrase “senior salute’’ describes a wide range of behaviors. It was never understood to include the conduct engaged in by Owen Labrie. That behavior was never condoned by the School, and we took action when it surfaced. Owen Labrie was banned from the School and his Rector’s Award was rescinded. We also revised the Student Handbook to state more explicitly that participation in any “game’’ of sexual conquest by any name or unauthorized possession of School keys or swipe cards would be grounds for expulsion.

During the last 15 months, we have continued to learn much about our School and the students it serves. We have learned that we must do more as a School community, students and adults alike, to support those who stand up for themselves when they feel they have been wronged. Our ongoing work will be even more difficult having witnessed the challenges of the trial, but it remains our responsibility to make our School the safest place possible.

We have been painfully reminded of the fact that social media can provide an adult-free space for negative student culture to form and perpetuate itself. We have learned that what was once termed “dating’’ or “courting’’ behavior has been inverted in some instances from our traditional sensibilities – sexual contact is now seen as the point of origin of many relationships, not a part of an emotionally developed relationship. These issues have highlighted some of the differences in educating students in the 21st century.

We need to continue to teach all our students about self-respect as well as respect for others. The lessons we have learned are critically important to our growth as a School community. The mark of our success in this area will be a School in which each child feels comfortable being him- or herself, a goal we have been pursuing and will likely continue to pursue forever.

The School has changed in a number of ways over its 159-year history, but it has never wavered in the expectations it has of its students – that they live honorably and respectfully and that they never forget to be kind. These are our core values – ones that will continue to guide us.

Here is the full statement from Harvard College:

“While we do not comment publicly on the admissions status of individual applicants, Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under certain conditions, which are clearly expressed to students upon their acceptance. An offer of admission may be rescinded if a student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.’’

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