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Doyle ’18: What we learned from the St. Paul’s trial

By
Opinions Columnist
Friday, November 6, 2015

About a week ago, a trial closely watched by many (myself included) came to an anticlimactic close. Owen Labrie, a former student at the prestigious St. Paul’s School of New Hampshire, was given a year in jail for the sexual assault of a young girl. At the time of the assault, he was 18, while she was only 15. Her young age became the deciding factor in the case. Labrie was convicted on exactly four accounts. Three were misdemeanors relating to the fact that the victim was under 16 years old. Under New Hampshire law, people under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sexual activity regardless of their own will. The last was a felony for using a computer to seduce a child. Labrie’s attorneys argued, and likely were correct, that the spirit of this law is to prevent the disguise of older men as children on the Internet. Labrie will also have to register as a sex offender.

I’ll admit I was happy to see Labrie punished to some degree. Still, I can’t comfortably call this justice. The issue with these four charges is that they all but completely disregard the victim’s testimony. Not one charge takes into account the fact that the victim did not consent to sexual activity. Though she broke down on the witness stand as she described the graphic details of her rape, the verdict shows that the jury believes the incident was consensual. Yet not one piece of testimony exposed any reason why this young girl would willingly go through such a traumatic and lengthy trial over something that did not happen.

I learned a lot during the Labrie trial. I learned about a disturbing ritual — now hopefully fated to die out — of sexually exploiting girls at a prestigious boarding school. I learned that a 15-year-old girl can have emotional strength far beyond my own. But first and foremost, I learned that rape culture is still alive and well in the world we live in.

Time and time again, the story is told of the girl that cried rape. She has a consensual sexual encounter with the boy who was sure she was having a great time. Soon afterwards, she regrets the experience or becomes jealous when that innocent boy no longer gives her attention. Out to get the well-meaning boy, she accuses him of rape and goes through a time-intensive, life-changing and trauma-inducing process for the small possibility that she can get revenge. The story is ridiculous. It makes no sense. And yet the jury members proved it to be their default assumption.

This isn’t to say that no girl in history has ever lied about rape. Everyone lies sometimes. But there is no reason to believe that an accuser is lying without a convincing motive. No person wants to sit through a cross examination. An attorney I once met described the process as punching a witness in the face over and over again. When the young girl in the Labrie case mentioned that she tries to avoid lying whenever possible, the crossing attorney retorted, “Sometimes I guess you’re unsuccessful.” He went on to question her on her choice to shave her pubic hair — a topic no 15-year-old could ever enjoy discussing with a grown man.

A survey of students at 27 institutions of higher education conducted by the Association of American Universities found that 23 percent of undergraduate female students have been sexually assaulted since enrolling in college. The AAU survey — the largest of its kind — supports the oft-cited finding from a smaller 2007 study that one in five women experience a sexual assault while in college. Looking at this case, it is no surprise that most victims don’t come forward. What traumatized victims would want to face the high probability that they will not be believed for only a small chance of justice? Few are as brave as the 15-year-old girl in this case. And though we don’t know her name, we should admire her. She took a stand for all silent victims at such a young age, jeopardizing her mental health in the process.

This is a rare case in which what looks like a step toward justice is really a step backward. The denial of rape culture will continue if young girls are continually silenced. Take this moment to support loved ones considering reporting an assault, trust victims and educate your peers. Do this in hope that one day sexual assault will not be the campus crisis that it is today.

Allie Doyle ’18 can be reached at alexandra_doyle@brown.edu.

7 Comments

  1. female brown student says:

    Why doesn’t it make sense that a girl might lie? Look at the UVA hoax case. Look at the Emma Sulkowicz case. Duke Lacrosse case. Time and again, girls who naively hook up with a guy, don’t have a good experience, and are then rejected convince themselves that they were “raped.” I’m not saying this is always the case, and I’m also not saying that the girl is even fully aware that she is lying.

    Here is an example of the common truth behind “the girl who cries rape”:

    A girl comes to college quite innocent and naive. She hooks up with a guy early on – maybe she was drunk – he was probably drunk too. Maybe she had a boyfriend back home, and got carried away at a party (after all, she’s never really drunk that much before!), and the next morning she feels disgusted and ashamed. At the same time…. she feels oh so attracted to him and she wants to see him again. But he’s not interested. She tries to contact him. She fantasizes about him some nights, but when he ignores her messages, she cries instead. When she finds out that he hooked up with another girl, she cries again and feels worthless. All this time, the boy refuses to acknowledge her, or only partially acknowledges her.

    So she vents to her feminist friends. She hears stories about girls who have been called heroes in the media for standing up against their “rapists”. She wants to feel like she’s part of a cause.There are whole groups of people at her new school who will stand behind her if she claims she was raped! They might hold up signs for her, create a hashtag for her, and stage “die-ins” for her. They will call her a “hero” and a “survivor.” It’s the perfect way to feel like she belongs to something. It’s a cause, it’s a way that she can feel special again. Growing up privileged and sheltered, she never experienced real hardship and she feels her life is boring. She wants so badly to have something to fight for, something to feel passionate about… something to make her feel like she, too, belongs in the crowd of oppressed, silenced victims that she hears so much about on her facebook timeline, in the Huffpost, and in her anthropology classes.

    It’s NOT that she deliberately decides to make up a story about her and this guy. Rather, in her mind, she twists the logic of what really happened that night. She recalls that even though she consented to getting fingered, she didn’t really enjoy it, and it kind of hurt. She never really wanted to have sex – she just wanted to kiss and cuddle and, well, I guess she felt kind of horny buuuut the sex just wasn’t that great. He was so awkward and he finished so fast. They were both drunk. She feels used and she feels like she’s not beautiful. Her boyfriend back home always tells her she’s beautiful, so why does she feel so ugly? Why does she feel so ordinary? How can she feel empowered again? How can she feel like she… matters? Well, it must have been rape. After all, she was drunk, and she had a boyfriend back home. Surely, in a different situation, she would never have consented. She reads about girls who consider this type of sex to be rape no matter what. “If the girl was intoxicated, she cannot consent,” the feminists say.

    She feels torn. She wants so badly to be part of something. She wants so badly to feel special and important. And so she does it… she sends the fateful message to the administration she has been sexually assaulted. The ball gets moving, and the boy finds out about her accusation.

    By this point, she can’t turn back. She’s accused him of something heinous, she’s already told her friends and the administration, and so she has two choices: retract her story and look like an idiot, or shape her narrative to fit her original story and truly convince herself that what happened was rape. Once the questions about the details of that night start coming, she begins to panic and realizes that she has to decide now. The only way to save face is to go with the second option.

    I emphasize here that the twisting of the facts, the “forgotten” interactions that might indicate consent or interest, are not, per say, intentional on her part. She is truly convinced at this point that it was rape. It’s a classic case of cognitive dissonance: everyone tells her it was rape – her friends, the media, her therapist, maybe even her professors and parents – and so she must reconcile what really happened with what they’re all telling her happened. Along with this, the boy’s not helping his case, as he’s still ignoring her and talking to other girls. If he only acknowledged her and showed genuine interest in her, maybe she would recant her statements. But he’s not going to do this. And so she chooses the narrative that won’t make her feel so ashamed: she pushes forward with the investigation, no matter what the costs are, no matter how much time and effort it will take. In the deep dark corner of her memory, some tiny little voice tells her that she might be exaggerating the details just a little, or leaving out a few crucial points where she consented or expressed interest in him. But she shushes that little voice, because if she acknowledges it, she’s going to look like an idiot. And she definitely won’t admit to herself that she fantasized about him so much. She needs to validate herself, she needs to prove that she wasn’t lying. And more than anything: she needs to prove that she’s not just a one-night-stand slam piece, that she too is important.

    It doesn’t matter that what she’s doing harms people who really are victims of abuse, rape, sexual assault, molestation. It doesn’t matter that there are people in this country who have truly been through pain and suffering. It doesn’t matter that there are real rape cultures in this world, where rape victims are burned alive, women are sold into sexual slavery or forced marriages, and where young girls have their genitals mutilated. It doesn’t matter that in this country, there are poor, uneducated women in abusive marriages who are raped constantly but feel like they can never escape their situations. No… What matters is that she feels important again. What matters is that she reconciles those years and years of being told my her parents and teachers she is smart, beautiful, and special, with the fact that she engaged in a shitty, drunken one night stand and was then blown off the next day. What matters is that her friends consider her a hero and a survivor. What matters is HER.

  2. “Though she broke down on the witness stand as she described the graphic details of her rape” – there was NO rape.

    “He went on to question her on her choice to shave her pubic hair — a topic no 15-year-old could ever enjoy discussing with a grown man.” – a grown man? An 18-year old teenager? You hear the talk of 15-year olds lately?

    “But there is no reason to believe that an accuser is lying without a convincing motive.” – you don’t think there will be a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against the school – the defendant being poor?

    Seriously – how naive are you?

    • You make no sense says:

      First off, how does what 15-year olds talk about with their friends relate to how she felt while being interrogated by a grown man? Yeah, teenagers make sexual jokes, typically with friends they are familiar with, but that has nothing to do with the fact that the girl was put on the spot and interrogated by a grown man that she does not know. The fact that the girl had to come forward in front of all these people with a personal and sexual experience itself is tolling, never mind that.
      There was no talk of any law-suit, and the criminal charges to Labrie have nothing to do with money. Not to mention the price of lawyers and such that were paid in order to even have the case, which she could have very well lost. How naive are YOU? Multi-million dollars? Really?

  3. ShadrachSmith says:

    Two points and they are:

    Having raised two daughters, both successful professionals, I can tell you that at the age of 15 they were both clinically insane, and,

    You, Allie, have a mean streak.

  4. Man with Axe says:

    “A survey of students at 27 institutions of higher education conducted by the Association of American Universities found that 23 percent of undergraduate female students have been sexually assaulted since enrolling in college.”

    If true, that is a compelling reason to go back to single-sex universities, or at the least some kind of old-fashioned chaperones at all university functions, especially at parties where alcohol is served.

    A community in which so many of the women are sexually assaulted is barbaric and should be shut down. I don’t think it’s this bad in the war zones of Africa or the middle east. It’s not this bad in South Africa, the rape capital of the world. It’s not this bad in Sweden. I don’t think 23% of the young girls of Rotherham were sexually assaulted, although that town may have suffered the worst rape conspiracy in modern history.

    No, the American coed university must go.

    Or maybe the statistic is a bit high? I’m just wondering.

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