Teen Gets A Year In Jail For ‘Senior Salute’ Sexual Assault

Owen Labrie: Photo: Geoff Forester/AP Photo.

Owen Labrie, the prep school student who was convicted of sexual assault, has been sentenced to one year in prison.
Prior to the sentencing, Labrie’s lawyer had requested that he undergo probation, rather than prison. To support this request, Labrie submitted a collection of testimonials to his character from Labrie’s family, friends, and teachers. His mother’s letter described him as a “spiritual, decent, hardworking man of service.” The victim, speaking in a taped statement to the court, said that she had panic attacks and that Labrie had taken away something very precious. Labrie was found not guilty of the charge of rape, but rather of the felony charge of using a computer to entice a minor for sex, and misdemeanor sexual assault charges. The convictions combined carried a possible sentence of up to eleven years in prison. He will have to register as a sex offender for life, though he can petition to have it removed after fifteen years.
This story was originally published on August 25, 2015

As the trial against Owen Labrie continues, more testimony and evidence is coming to light daily, all pointing to what seems like a clear, unequivocal case of sexual assault. But no matter the outcome, these proceedings have revealed a glaring ignorance in the way we define both rape and consent. Whether the result of willful misunderstanding or deliberate victim-blaming, this is an indefensible problem.
"Isn’t it true that you held your arms up so that it would be easier for Owen to take your shirt off?" defense attorney J.W. Carney asked when cross-examining the accuser last week. She answered yes, according to The New York Times, also acknowledging that she had lifted her hips so he could take off her shorts. "You didn’t do anything to tell Owen that you were uncomfortable kissing your breasts?" Carney proceeded to ask. She said no. As the accuser has stated from the beginning, she did willingly meet up with Owen Labrie, expecting that they would kiss and fool around — not have sex. It wasn't until it became clear that Labrie was trying to have sex with her (attempting to remove her underwear, and when she said no, becoming forceful) that this became a case of assault. The obvious point — which seems unclear to the defense team — is that you can consent to having your shirt removed and still not consent to having sex.

The obvious point is that you can consent to having your shirt removed and still not consent to having sex.

Carney later referred to email exchanges between Labrie and the accuser after the alleged assault, pointing out that she didn't initially seem upset or angry in her messages with Labrie. She used words like "haha," after all. And that's just not how rape victims talk, apparently. Carney repeatedly described the language in her emails as "false statements," despite her clear description of her emotional state after the rape: She was scared of rocking the boat at her prestigious new school, anxious about offending a senior boy, and worried people would think she was just being "dramatic." All this is why, she says, she initially tried to keep cordial relations between herself and Labrie, adding, "I try not to lie as much as possible." In response, Carney said, "Sometimes I guess you’re unsuccessful."
Tucker Marchese: Photo: Jim Cole/AP Photo.
Labrie has pleaded not guilty to all 10 criminal charges against him, saying not only that the encounter was entirely consensual, but that no intercourse took place at all. Today, a criminalist testified that samples taken from the accuser's underwear matched Labrie's DNA profile. Yesterday, four of Labrie's classmates testified that he told them he had indeed had sex with the girl. Labrie's friends also described the way he specifically targeted the girl as his primary conquest during the so-called "Senior Salute." Some said they tried to talk him out of it, due to her age, but Labrie pursued her anyway. On the night of the alleged assault, the classmates said, Labrie told them he had taken her virginity. When asked, one classmate responded that Labrie did not say he forced or coerced her. As for how Labrie managed to have sex with her, he replied to one friend — in a message that was shown to the jury — that he'd "used every trick in the book." This testimony from Labrie's classmates offers another damning contradiction. Certainly, few rapists leave an assault to go tell their friends they raped a girl. Labrie likely saw this as a mission accomplished, having "slayed" the conquest he'd listed in all caps on the top of his Senior Salute list, as reported by The Boston Globe. At every turn thus far, this trial has illuminated how poorly our culture still handles sexual assault. One might almost understand some of these dynamics coming from teenagers — though, surely that in itself is a deeply egregious issue, and one that sits at the center of rape culture. But in a court of law, these issues are made more stark and outrageous. That Labrie's defense team can use the fact that the accuser was in shock after being raped as evidence of her incredibility is itself incredible. In the midst of cross-examination, she explained that her mind felt "cloudy" after the assault. Carney asked why, and she broke down, exclaiming, "I was raped. I was violated in so many ways. Of course I was traumatized. I was cloudy because I was traumatized." This is a trial, and therefore it is expected — if dreadful — that this girl must defend her story. But that she must embody and define the experience of rape to an audience that seems so skeptical and ignorant — that is nothing but the addition of insult to tremendous injury.

More from Politics

R29 Original Series