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Rape Trial Raises Questions About 'Senior Salute' At N.H. Boarding School


Let's talk about the awkward subject of teenagers and sex. It's a subject many of us would rather not discuss at all. You've got that feeling now, don't you? But some news reminds us this discussion is mandatory. It's a story from St. Paul's School, which is an elite boarding school in New Hampshire. A former student was convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault last week. It happened after an encounter with a 15-year-old freshman, part of what had been described as a school tradition. She was underage. He was not. Let's start with Paige Sutherland of New Hampshire Public Radio, who's been reporting on this story and its aftermath.

PAIGE SUTHERLAND, BYLINE: The charges against Owen Labrie stem from his participation in the so-called senior salute. In court, that was described as a student-led tradition where seniors try to hook up with as many underclassmen as they can before they graduate, which sometimes led to sex. After the verdict was read, defense attorney J.W. Carney blamed the school for not stopping what he said was a decades-old tradition.


J.W. CARNEY: This kind of tradition can only be mischievous, can only lead to problems. And it's shocking to me that the senior salute has been allowed to continue on this long. It's time for St. Paul's to get rid of it.

SUTHERLAND: But how long this so-called tradition has been going on is a matter of debate. According to multiple parents, the senior salute is not a tradition. It began roughly two or three years ago with a handful of students. Barbara Reudig, whose three daughters went to St. Paul's from 1993 to 2007, says the senior salute did not exist when her children attended the boarding school in Concord, N.H.

BARBARA REUDIG: I've talked to other St. Paul's families. No one has ever heard of this as a tradition, as a spring ritual or anything of the sort. And as far as we can tell, this is a case of a couple of boys breaking the school rules and getting caught.

SUTHERLAND: But St. Paul's would not comment for this story. In a letter that went out to the school community last week, St. Paul's said this behavior was never condoned by the school and pledged to use this case and the issues raised by it to, quote, "learn about ourselves and to make our school better." In the letter, the school also outlined how in the past year it has changed certain policies and even added a line in its student handbook that explicitly states that any participation in any, quote, "game of sexual conquest" would be grounds for expulsion. Labrie could face up to 11 years in jail. He's expected to appeal the most serious charge. For NPR News, I'm Paige Sutherland in Concord, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Paige Sutherland

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