An elite New Hampshire boarding school has denied reports that it wishes to publicly identify the victim of a high-profile campus sexual assault in a civil suit against the school.
It seemed that St. Paul’s was determined to further protect its downtrodden reputation, even if that meant exposing an underage woman to potential humiliation and harassment.
Some background: Last summer, the jury in a criminal trial found Labrie guilty on three misdemeanor counts of sexually assaulting a fellow student on campus in 2014, when she was a freshman and he was a senior, but acquitted him of felony charges.
On June 1, the victim—now 17—and her parents pseudonymously sued St. Paul’s for turning a blind eye to a predatory hook-up culture on campus that led to her assault: the so-called “‘Senior Salute,’ a campus-wide competition that encouraged senior men to commit statutory rape” and treat underage female students as “targets of desire,” the complaint reads.
St. Paul’s has denied that it could have prevented the sexual assault, writing in a response to the complaint last week that only the victim and Labrie “know what happened on the evening of May 30, 2014.”
In a separate court filing, the school also responded to the plaintiffs’ motion to retain their pseudonyms during legal proceedings, writing that St. Paul’s had no objections to the court protecting their anonymity—as long as the plaintiffs agreed to several conditions laid out by the school.
St. Paul’s asked that the plaintiffs and their attorneys not make “further public statements” about the civil suit “until the litigation is completed.”
The school also asked for permission to refer to the victim by name during pretrial deposition, the formal process of taking testimony, and that the plaintiffs “bear the cost of redacting any documents filed with the Court bearing…personally identifiable information.”
Lastly, St. Paul’s requested that the plaintiffs not proceed under pseudonyms during trial.
In a letter to the St. Paul’s community published on its website last night, Archibald Cox Jr., president of the school’s Board of Trustees, wrote that the school’s filing had been misrepresented in the media.
“We did not oppose the family’s use of pseudonyms, and certainly did not request that the young woman’s name be made public,” Cox wrote. “Rather, we agreed to the family’s use of pseudonyms during pretrial phases of the litigation, provided they agreed to stop improperly attacking the School’s character in statements to the press…No one at the School has any desire or intention to reveal the identity of the young woman or her family.”
Yet Cox did not address the third condition in the filing, in which the school asked that pseudonyms be dropped at trial. Andrew T. Miltenberg, a defense attorney who frequently represents the accused in campus sexual assault cases, was unimpressed by the school’s requests.
“Quite frankly, I think it’s disturbing that they’re trying to essentially intimidate [the victim] to drop the case, absent her contemplating moving forward in her own name,” Miltenberg told The Daily Beast.
Though he believes it’s fair and reasonable for the school to ask that plaintiffs not discredit St. Paul’s in the media while the suit is ongoing, “nothing else that the school is doing or requesting has any sound basis in good faith,” he added. “I can’t see a reason why making the victim’s name available [at trial] is necessary for the defense lawyers to properly defend this case.”
In his statement, Cox reiterated court pleadings which denied that the school “is somehow responsible for, or could have prevented, Owen Labrie’s misconduct.”
While the school acknowledged they knew about a storage shed nicknamed the “Mars Hotel,” they denied the plaintiffs’ allegations that it is littered with condoms and that students moved a couch into the shed solely for the purpose of having sex on it. In its response to the original complaint, St. Paul’s wrote that the shed is used by the cross-country and downhill ski teams to store equipment.
The school also denies that, prior to the criminal investigation into the Owen Labrie case, it could have known that Labrie and his friends were picking out potential “Senior Salute” conquests for “Slaypril” (the nickname for April, when boys would compete to see who could “slay” the most girls).
These details later emerged in conversations between Labrie and other upperclassmen on Facebook and in email exchanges.
Yet the victim’s family says St. Paul’s was previously informed that Labrie was overly aggressive in a sexual encounter with another female student “but took no significant action to investigate it.”
The school has denied any knowledge of this incident.