A 16-year-old girl who alleges she was raped at the prestigious New Hampshire prep school returned to the witness stand on Wednesday, telling the court she felt she couldn’t say no to the popular older boy as he raped her during a secret rooftop meeting last Spring.
She described her confusion as he began groping her in a secluded room of a campus building at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, in May 2014. “I felt like I was frozen,” she said through tears as she described how her accused rapist, Owen Labrie, began biting her breasts and pulling down her underwear.
“I felt like I had no control. I felt like I couldn’t say no.”
Further into the assault, the girl, who was 15 years old at the time, did tell him to stop. But as the attack continued, she said she tried to zone out, looked at the ceiling and attempted to ignore the pain. It continued until the girl was forced to have unwanted sexual intercourse.
“I didn’t want to believe what was happening to me,” she said while being questioned by Deputy Merrimack Country Attorney Catherine Ruffle.
The girl at the time was a freshman when she became part of a long unofficial tradition called a “senior salute.” The ritual involved older students requesting sexual contact from younger students in the days before graduation.
The “senior salute” plays an important part in the trial as prosecutors argue that it was the basis for Labrie’s alleged luring of the young girl and defense lawyers argue that it shows that the sex was consensual.
The girl told jurors that she went to the roof with the defendant, Owen Labrie, then 18, thinking that they would just share a kiss.
“I thought if anything he might try to kiss me. I thought, ‘Okay, I might get to see a cool place and maybe we’ll kiss but that’s all.”
After a brief time on the roof, he led her into a dark room. This is where the girl says the attack took place.
The encounter began with kissing, but Labrie quickly took off the girl’s shorts. She found herself battling him to keep her underwear on. The girl says she never screamed or kicked him, but only nervously laughed when he ignored her objection.
“I felt like I had objected as much as I felt I could at the time,” she said. “Other than that, I felt powerless and weak that I couldn’t do anything else.”
The girl said she didn’t even realize they were having intercourse until after it was already happening. “I had never done any of this stuff before. I didn’t know what was going on,” she said.
“I tried to focus on the noises around me because I thought this will be over soon. Just wait it out… I didn’t want to come off as an inexperienced little girl. I did not want him to laugh at me. I didn’t want to offend him. I didn’t want to make him feel angry.”
Labrie, 19, told police he never had intercourse with the girl and that the encounter was consensual. He told police that he had put on a condom, but in a “moment of divine inspiration,” stopped himself from proceeding with the act.
The girl testified that the ordeal began with a “pretentious” email where Labrie asked her to climb with him to the roof. She originally rejected the request, thinking the message was a default ploy young boys use to get girls to go out with them.
She caved into the proposal when Labrie called her rejection “sassy” and another boy convinced her that Labrie could be trusted.
“He managed to convince me it was innocent… Owen wouldn’t do anything against my will. I was thinking: wouldn’t it be cool to see such a cool place?”
Owen Labrie is charged with three counts of aggravated felony sex assault, four counts of misdemeanor sex assault, endangering the welfare of a child and using a computer to lure her to meet him via email and Facebook.
He will take the stand later in the trial.
Jay Carney, Labrie’s defense lawyer, is expected to cross-examine the girl. He plans on questioning the emails and Facebook messages between the girl and Labrie to show that she was willing to participate in the encounter.
In an attempt to prepare the jury for those questions, Ruffle had the girl read the messages aloud in court and explain why she wrote them. She said she was trying to be polite and avoid retaliation, and that the messages hid how she was actually feeling: scared, vulnerable, and that she was somehow at fault for the alleged rape.
“I wanted control in a situation where I completely lost control. I wanted to tell myself I had the control of the situation. ‘I can make it better. I can do this, it’s all on me.'”
She said that during the alleged rape, she blamed herself for even agreeing to go to the rooftop with him.
“I’m thinking how naive… how I never should have left my room that night. I never should have gone. If I had just been able to kick, or yell at him… If I had been able to get the point across… I could have stopped it.”
In a statement posted to the St. Paul’s website on Monday, the school’s rector, Michael Hirschfeld, said the “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.”
He promised that St. Paul’s would emerge from the case “stronger, united, and committed, as always, to ensuring our students’ safety and well-being.”
Whose side are you taking on in the St. Paul’s “senior salute” rape trial?