On October 29th, Owen Labrie was sentenced to a year in jail, five years probation for misdemeanor statutory rape and a three and a half to seven year suspended sentence for the felony of using a computer to lure a child. This wasn’t a Romeo-and-Juliet type of situation, however. The crime, committed when Labrie was 18, sent an email to a 15-year-old student with poetry to convince her to meet him on the roof of a building at their shared school. It was on that roof where, when she refused to have sex, Labrie violated her with with his finger, spat on her vagina and then penetrated her while she froze.
Unfortunately, some media outlets are painting Labrie as the victim. An editorial in the Boston Herald by Peter Gelzinis basically boiled down to “Boys Will Be Boys“:
If New Hampshire Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler sentences 20-year-old Owen Labrie to jail today for his disastrous attempt to sustain the infamous “Senior Salute” tradition at St. Paul’s School, then he should toss Michael G. Hirschfeld, the elite prep school’s current rector, into the same cell.
It’s only fair.
The St. Paul’s “Senior Salute,” that quaint ritual where upperclassmen bid farewell to their prep school experience by trying to bed freshman females, was definitely one of the more salacious factoids to emerge from last summer’s trial.
Other Labrie sympathizers point to the fact that the only felony charge was a law designed to stop catfishing — triggered because Labrie sent an email to his victim, rather than contacting her offline. While this is a relatively common charge nowadays, the story of Zachery Anderson is a better fit for this narrative. Anderson had consensual sex with a 14-year-old who claimed she was 17 (and she admitted this in court) when he was 19 — and received a similar “using a computer to lure a child” charge because the two met using a dating app.
This, however, is not Labrie, and to claim him as a poster boy for injustice is rape culture, pure and simple. Labrie is a prep school kid who was set to go to Harvard before he raped someone. Yet Gelzinis claims:
If you want to punish Owen Labrie, have him spend a couple of years working with victims of sexual assault, listening to their stories, realizing their pain. And then, think about punishing those learned elders at St. Paul’s who have allowed the “Senior Salute” to go on and ultimately ruin one kid’s bright future.
While, yes, the “learned elders” should face some punishment for allowing this culture to go on, it should be impossible to be concerned at all that Labrie ruined his “bright future”. Again — he ruined that bright future by choosing to rape someone. And yet, this framing positions Labrie as the victim of that mean old teenaged girl who chose to speak out and probably agreed to sex and just regretted it besides.
Labrie chose to rape the victim because he knew he could, because he knew that people would think and say exactly the type of thing Gelzinis does. “He is a smart kid!” “This is what everybody does!” “He’s not a rapist, just look at him!” “He seems so nice!” But Labrie isn’t nice — he’s a misogynist.
When his victim initially refused to meet with him (she later changed her mind), he sent a friend this message: “Another dumb cunt-bucket struck from my nut sucking, suck it slut, slut fuckin bucket list,” a quote from comedian Bo Burnham.
He bragged about seducing women using “The Labreazy Sleazy Method”: “EMAIL-POEM-BONE”.
He advised his friends to show “complete indifference towards anything with a vagina.”
But, again, to people like Gelzinis, this is just normal guy stuff. And this is why the prosecutor in the case rightfully decided to use the computer crime law — Labrie’s male privilege combined with our culture’s normalization of rape made it difficult to convince people like Gelzinis there even was a crime. Prosecutor Catherine J. Ruffle was particularly canny in using this law to get some semblance of justice for the victim.
Is the computer law a perfect fit? No — as Labrie’s lawyer pointed out in the motion to dismiss the felony charge, had Labrie phoned her rather than emailed, it wouldn’t stand. But until we fix how we handle rape cases — for instance, the huge backlog of rape kits nationwide — we’ve got to use what imperfect tools we have to fight rapists. As it is, Labrie’s sentence is too weak, but it’s a start.
(Additional reporting from Ben Allen; Featured image via Chase Carter/Flickr)