An elite New England prep school has been making headlines within the media lately, and not for the notable authors and congressmen who formally passed through its halls. As ingrained within the culture of St. Paul’s as their mandatory sports teams and daily prayer rituals is the “Senior Salute”, a long-standing tradition for senior class boys to coerce female freshmen to engage in sexual activities with them. Like the generations of St. Paul’s alumni before him, 18-year-old Owen Labrie was eager to participate in the unofficial time honored tradition.

Owen Labrie

Owen Labrie

Labrie ,along with other male classmates carefully filled out their “score cards”. These rudimentary lists of female students would then be used by the boys to compete on how many of the girls listed on their sheets they would be able to “slay”. Their conquests would then be publicly memorialized as tally marks on the school walls. The bizarre sexual hazing ritual may have been all fun and games, but Labrie would soon be facing rape charges for his part in soliciting a 15-year-old to engage in sexual activities and bring the school’s underground sex culture to the forefront of a media scandal.

According to private Facebook messages obtained by investigators sent between Labrie and another student, Labrie was not only able to convince a young woman to meet with him, but was able to carry out sexual activities with the girl, in spite of his reports that she had initially rejected his propositions. The girl, whom has not been identified, paints a slightly different picture of what occurred between her and Labrie that evening.

She admits to meeting up with Labrie and even told a girlfriend that she was interested in Labrie, but had no desire to have sex with him. During the couple’s encounter things began to get more heated than the girl intended, according to her testimony. She claims that while she did consent to the kissing and heavy petting that occurred between her and Labrie, she never consented to having sexual intercourse with the young man. In spite of her protests for Labrie to stop, she claims that Labrie had penetrated her at some point. Several days later the girl confided in her mother on what had happened and a school counselor immediately reported the information to police.

“Welcome to an eight-week exercise in debauchery, a probing exploration of the innermost meanings of the word sleaze bag,” – A message written by Labrie to a friend

Labrie, of course, denied the allegations. He claims that all activities that occurred between he and the young lady were completely consensual and there was never any penetration that evening. The following day Labrie’s chat logs document him bragging to fellow Senior Saluters that he had “boned” the young woman that evening. Labrie says that this had been a lie and the two had never even taken off their underwear.

Like most cases of this nature, the victim stood on the stand for hours under the scrutiny of Labrie’s defense team. Breaking down the young woman’s claims into a battle of “he said, she said” and dismissing the deplorable behavior of the young men participating in the sex ritual with a “boys will be boys” attitude. Though the most serious of the charges faced by Labrie was dropped, as it was difficult to determine how much of the couple’s encounter had been consensual, Labrie was found guilty of three misdemeanor charges involving the endangerment of a minor and engaging in sexual activities with a minor under the age of consent.

The St. Paul’s case, like many others of this nature, brings up one glaringly important question. What constitutes as sexual consent?

While ignorance of the law does not excuse Mr. Labrie’s actions, his potential confusion on how far the girl may have been willing to go with him that evening would not be the first time a young man misinterpreted a partner’s intentions. The only thing which sets Mr. Labrie’s case apart from others of this nature is that he was one of the few who were later prosecuted for his lack of understanding on sexual consent.

The sexual subculture of St. Paul's and the possible misinterpretation of sexual consent are a problem high schools and colleges across the nation are struggling to address.

The sexual subculture of St. Paul’s and the possible misinterpretation of sexual consent are a problem high schools and colleges across the nation are struggling to address.

The proof of this claim is in the polls. Several universities have conducted surveys on campus in regards to the same question I posed above. Nearly half of the student body said they were unclear on whether both parties were consenting to sex if they had not explicitly discussed their intentions prior to the encounter and another 60 percent claimed that actions alone were enough to determine if sex was consensual.

If 60 percent of university students consider actions alone to imply an invitation for a person to have sex with another, then it can be easy to sympathize on some level with Labrie if he had misinterpreted the young lady’s consent to heavy petting and rolling around in their underwear that evening as her consent to have sex.

The events that transpired within St. Paul’s are hardly an isolated incident and sends the message loud and clear. High schools and colleges across the nation need to do their part in providing proper sex education to teens and young adults, and the topic of consent needs to be at the forefront of these conversations. It is the only solution to combat the misconceptions far too many young people have about sex and to help prevent the sexual assault of young women.