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New game of sexual conquest comes to light at St. Paul’s School

  • St. Paul's School in Concord, Monday, May 22, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Thursday, June 29, 2017

A new game of sexual conquest among students has emerged at St. Paul’s School in Concord.

School administrators learned about the game just prior to the June 4 commencement, and made an internal announcement that an independent investigator had been hired to look into the matter.

Roughly eight boys from the same dormitory took part, competing to have their names put on a crown. One boy withdrew from the school after the game came to the attention of senior administrators.

St. Paul’s took steps to cover up student photos on an all-boys dormitory page of the 2016-17 yearbook. Student directory photos were printed on a large sticker, which was placed over the bottom half of a page to conceal the original images.

The Monitor learned the details surrounding the incident at St. Paul’s through multiple interviews over the past several weeks with people connected with the institution.

Requests for comment from St. Paul’s School, including an interview with Rector Michael Hirschfeld, went unanswered Thursday. Hirschfeld previously told the Monitor that he could not comment on any student disciplinary matters or pending investigations.

The national spotlight fell on St. Paul’s in 2014 when graduate Owen Labrie was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old freshman as part of a sexual conquest game known as the “Senior Salute.” Upperclassmen solicited intimate encounters from younger pupils in what was referred to as a springtime ritual.

Labrie was convicted in August 2015 of three counts of statutory rape and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, all misdemeanors. The jury also found him guilty of prohibited use of a computer, a felony that requires lifelong registration as a sex offender. His appeal is before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

In a letter addressed to students and parents in August 2014, Hirschfeld wrote that the allegations of sexual assault and the subsequent media coverage that followed Labrie’s arrest was “unsettling for many within the community.” He told the St. Paul’s community at that time that “participation in any game, ‘tradition,’ or practice of sexual solicitation or sexual conquest under any name will be grounds for expulsion from the School.”

A civil lawsuit filed against St. Paul’s in spring 2016 contends the Senior Salute is part of a “warped culture” that normalizes sexual misconduct and a prevailing “hook-up” culture. The lawsuit, filed by the parents of the former freshman sexually assaulted by Labrie, cites numerous examples to support those claims, including a storage shed purportedly lined with condoms and nicknamed the “Mars Hotel,” and a website for tracking the sexual conquests of peers.

The details of the now-infamous Senior Salute were center stage during Labrie’s trial in Concord. Prosecutors told jurors how Labrie and close fellow seniors shared their lists and helped each other craft “invitations” for the girls on them, and that they jokingly referred to the months of April and May, when the encounters occurred, as “Slaypril and Slay.”

In its response, St. Paul’s said it could not have prevented the sexual assault of the girl by Labrie. The school also denied allegations that upperclassmen competed in games of sexual conquest, and that the Senior Salute is a school-sanctioned term or event.

In a statement Thursday, Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said St. Paul’s longstanding and documented history of sexual assault on campus has had a deep effect on student culture today.

“This situation is nothing more than the senior salute dressed up with a crown,” Grady Sexton said. “If the school was aware of this misconduct, they should have engaged in an immediate public dialogue with students, faculty, and staff. Instead they attempted to literally cover it up with a sticker. It’s deeply concerning that the administration isn’t taking action to truly address this toxic environment.”

The exact rules of the latest sexual conquest game involving a crown aren’t clear. The dormitory in question houses boys in multiple grade levels, and sources told the Monitor that sophomores and juniors took part.

Concord police said in a statement Thursday that through the course of conducting unrelated investigations involving St. Paul’s, officers learned “there may be a sexual conquest game that is occurring or did occur. However, it does not appear to factor into any of our current investigations at this time. If that behavior is going on, it is very concerning to us.”

The department is also investigating the report of a sexual assault at the school in the days before graduation. Police opened that investigation June 1 after a female student told a staff member that she’d been sexually assaulted two weeks earlier.

Additionally, detectives are continuing their review of an independent report, released by the school May 22, that substantiates claims of sexual abuse against at least 13 former faculty members between 1948 and 1988. In a yearlong inquiry, the Boston-based law firm Casner & Edwards also looked into 21 other claims that were less clear, 11 of which it deemed “unsubstantiated.”

Investigators found that teachers repeatedly took advantage of the teenagers in their care. Allegations range from boundary violations, such as love letters, to rape.

Following the report’s release, Hirschfeld and Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox Jr., acknowledged that the school failed its former students by not adequately investigating allegations of sexual abuse against faculty decades ago. They said in a letter to the St. Paul’s community that inaction resulted in “damaged trust” at the school, and that they hope to work with everyone to fix it.