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St Paul’s School responds to lawsuit over student’s sexual assault

St Paul’s School responds to lawsuit over student’s sexual assault

St Paul’s School in Concord, NH, responded Monday to a lawsuit pressed by parents of a student assaulted by a senior student at the school.

NBC reports,

St. Paul’s School in Concord responded Monday to a federal complaint filed in June by the girl’s parents, who said the school failed to protect the children entrusted to its care. The senior, Owen Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was convicted last year of misdemeanor sex assault charges and a felony charge of using a computer to lure an underage student for sex. He was cleared of rape.

The school said it “lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief” as to whether the girl was sexually assaulted by Labrie.

St Paul’s is a member of the National Association of Episcopal Schools.

During the trial, the culture of the “senior salute” came under scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal, reporting in June on the original filing by the victim’s parents, elaborates.

A  lawsuit filed… in U.S.District Court in Concord, N.H., blamed the 2014 sexual assault of a then 15-year-old freshman girl on St. Paul’s “fostering, permitting and condoning a tradition of ritualized statutory rape” called the “Senior Salute.” …

In testimony during the trial, several current and former students from St. Paul’s described a campus practice in which seniors proposition younger classmates for encounters, often intimate, before graduation—with boys in some dorms and sports teams competing for the highest tally.

Prosecutors said Mr. Labrie—a popular student-athlete who attended St. Paul’s on a financial scholarship and had been headed for Harvard—invited the girl out for a “senior salute” encounter just before his graduation.

The lawsuit alleges that the concept of “scoring”—with older students “tracking their sexual conquests of young girls—has long been part of [St. Paul’s] ethos” and that the school failed to put a halt to it.

Another report, in the New Hampshire Union Leader, gives more details of the parents’ allegations, and St Paul’s School’s specific denials.

The teen’s parents filed the suit in June, alleging the sexual assault of their daughter was entirely preventable. Much of the allegations are based on evidence gathered by police, including Labrie’s and others’ texts and emails, and evidence presented at trial. …

The parents said the senior boys would get together to rate the incoming underage girls, based on their photographs in the school directory, to determine “targets” for “scoring.” The school denies that, and said if it did occur, “such activities were not carried out in an open or overt manner.”

St. Paul’s, an Episcopal boarding school founded in 1856, said while students were required to sign an agreement that they understood they had limited expectations of privacy when using technology on school property, it denied the agreement created an obligation on the part of the school to monitor online activity. …

In a communication with Marchese in April and May 2014, Labrie said it was his intention to engage in “an eight week exercise in debauchery,” according to the suit. The 15-year-old freshman’s name was the only one in all capitalized letters in the communication.

The school said it had no obligation to monitor email and had no knowledge of the communication.

The female student’s parents say that she returned to the school, only to be shunned and bullied.

The school said the complaint “fails to state a cause of action or claim upon which relief can be granted” and asks a judge to dismiss it,

according to NBC.

A pastoral letter from the Bishop of New Hampshire published soon after the conclusion of last year’s trial explained that the School’s management and operations do not fall under the authority of the Bishop, who only has “spiritual and canonical oversight of the clergy employed at the School.” Bishop Hirschfeld acknowledged at that time, however, that,

The trial… has brought great sorrow and distress to both the School and the extended Episcopal community.

Sources for this story include NBC, the Wall Street Journal, the NH Union Leader, and Tending the Vine, the blog of Rob Hirschfeld, Bishop of New Hampshire. Previous coverage on the Cafe includes stories from the trial, and the School’s response to Labrie’s conviction.

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The Very Rev. Wm. Willoughby III EdD

At the bear minimum St. Paul 's should pledge to do all in its power to remove root and branch such behavior in its student body. The NAES needs to develope, if it has not, guide which enable its members in curbing this gross inability to live into the baptismal covenant to "respect the dignity of every human being."
Furthermore the Church Insurance Corp of Vermont might consider bringing its extensive expertise to bear; so this becomes an opportunity to create a model for boarding schools similar to the Safeguarding our Children program. Fr. W

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