In Rape Trial, N.H. Prep School's Sexual Culture Faces Scrutiny

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Owen Labrie looks around the courtroom during his trial, in Merrimack County Superior Court on Tuesday in Concord, N.H. (Jim Cole/AP)
Owen Labrie looks around the courtroom during his trial, in Merrimack County Superior Court on Tuesday in Concord, N.H. (Jim Cole/AP)

Owen Labrie, 19, is the man on trial for the rape of a freshman at an elite prep school in Concord, N.H. But testimony in the case so far has revealed as much about the culture among young men at St. Paul's school as it has about what may have happened in this one instance.

Michael Kimmel, a professor and executive director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at SUNY Stony Brook, joined Morning Edition to talk about this culture. He will also be addressing the faculty at St. Paul's next month about his research.


On testimony in the trial about the "Senior Salute," where graduating seniors allegedly proposition as many female underclassmen as they can:

Michael Kimmel: "I think what this reveals that relations with women are really not about the guys and the girls — the one[s] that really matters is the relationships among the guys. Women are a kind of currency by which men move up or down in a male hierarchy. ... The allegations in the St. Paul's case are shocking only because this is one of the nation's most elite schools, and it's co-educational. Once all-male, it is now co-educational. These allegations, if true, indicate that despite the fact that they are a co-educational school, they really are still a 'man's world.' The guys still rule. And that is troubling, if that's true."

On whether a sense of entitlement at the boarding school is to blame:

MK: "... Guys do what they do very often because they know they can get away with ... I think that this sense of entitlement is real. Now here's the reason that I think it's important at an elite school like St. Paul's: These are not only the most elite students in the country, but they're also the most empowered young women in our country. These are girls that are going on to have fantastic careers, great universities, and so the fact is, that if this is true, it actually suggests that this is the tip of an iceberg. You'll notice, for example, that those young women on college campuses who have sued their universities these are some of the most empowered young women in the world. And they know, now, that if this happens to them, it's wrong."

On the accuser's testimony, in which she said she did not want to have a bad reputation or start conflict by coming forward with her accusation:

MK: "That is exactly the dilemma that so many women are in. For years, you know of course, that of all sexual assault cases in prep schools and in colleges and universities less than 10 percent are actually reported — and that's up from like 5 percent only a few years ago. Most young women are told by friends, by other guys, by other women, 'listen, you don't want to get him in trouble; this could ruin his life. He could get kicked out, he could go to jail.' So they're actually discouraged from coming forward. So the remarkable thing is that despite all of that pressure so many of them are coming forward."

On whether he believes he can change young male behavior in the face of such traditions like the "Senior Salute" and peer pressure:

MK: "I think that we can create a conversation in which they will have more resources and more ability to stand up against this kind of idea. And the work that I do, for example, I encourage young guys to think about what it means to be a good man, versus what they're doing to prove that they are a real man. And I ask them not to live up to some external ideas of honor and ethics — I ask them to live up to their own code."

Correction: An earlier version of this story spelled Owen Labrie's last name incorrectly. We regret the error. 

This article was originally published on August 20, 2015.

This segment aired on August 20, 2015.


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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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