Parents of Owen Labrie sex assault victim agree to be named in lawsuit

  • The entrance to the elite St. Paul’s School is seen Friday Aug. 14, 2015, in Concord. Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Published: 8/26/2016 1:45:23 AM

The parents of a teenage sexual assault victim have agreed to identify themselves in a lawsuit against St. Paul’s School. Their daughter’s full name, however, will remain out of the lawsuit, concealed by her initials.

Their decision comes after the Concord prep school recently argued that the girl should be identified if the civil lawsuit reaches trial in U.S. District Court.

The parents say St. Paul’s objection to their use of pseudonyms is part of a larger ploy by the school to undermine the girl’s credibility. Since the beginning, the parents say, the school “controlled the public narrative” of the sexual assault and, further, stood by when money poured in to aid the girl’s aggressor, Owen Labrie.

A jury convicted Labrie, now 20, of statutory rape, endangering the welfare of a child and using a computer to lure the girl into their encounter. He has since appealed the convictions and separately petitioned for a new trial, claiming ineffective counsel.

As Labrie awaits his fate, the girl’s parents are moving forward with their suit. They argue in the civil lawsuit, filed in June, that St. Paul’s failed to “meet its most basic obligation to protect the children entrusted to its care.” Top officials, they say, knew about the now-infamous “senior salute,” in which upperclassmen solicit intimate encounters from younger pupils, and yet did nothing to curtail it.

The school has since denied any liability. It says it could not have prevented the sexual assault of the girl by Labrie in May 2014.

In court documents filed Thursday, the girl’s family says the school and “its well-financed public relations team has spared no expense in seeking to shield itself from any responsibility” for the sexual assault. Further, they say, “The school now renews those efforts by, again, smearing the victim and, again, demonstrating that it has no interest in the safety, privacy, or well-being of female children that are or were in its care.”

St. Paul’s recently recommended certain limitations on the family’s anonymity, saying its right to a fair trial could be compromised if it can’t name the girl in its pretrial investigation and before a jury. The school also called for a gag order against the family and its attorney.

But, the parents say, “even the most talented (and expensive) spin doctors cannot help” the school in its call for the girl to be identified, even though she is a minor. The school has misstated the law, as both parties are prohibited from naming her in any court pleading, according to the family’s lawyers. Instead, she will be identified by her initials.

The school has accused the parents of pursuing a national and local media campaign against it, but the parents say it was St. Paul’s that engaged in that effort. The school spent millions “to assemble a crisis response and communication team tasked with spinning the facts to conjure a more positive portrayal of the school in the media throughout the criminal trial,” the parents say.

For example, the school hired Michael Delaney as its attorney during the criminal trial, as well as Madison Avenue crisis communications expert Jeffrey Taufield and Boston-based communications firm The Castle Group to advise on how to respond.

The school’s public relations campaign was aimed at deflecting attention away from the larger issues, including questions about the school’s culture of sexual misconduct, the family maintains. Rather than answer questions, the school asked its own about whether the girl’s story could be believed, they say.

And while high-paid experts worked to paint the school in a positive light, the family says, wealthy alumni and parents raised more than $100,000 to hire Jay Carney, the lawyer who defended James “Whitey” Bulger, to represent Labrie.

“No one at the school undertook the slightest effort to raise a penny for Labrie’s victim, whose family was forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars on counseling, travel, and many other expenses related to the assault,” according to Thursday’s filing.

The girls’ family relocated from abroad after the case against Labrie opened in summer 2014.

At Labrie’s sentencing this past October, the girl’s father told the court that the legal process had a devastating effect on each of their lives.

But even in the face of extreme pain and sorrow, he said, he saw the importance of pushing forward.

“My little girl stood up to this entitled young man,” he said. “She stood up to the entitled culture of St. Paul’s. She stood up to the rape culture that exists in our society, that allows ‘boys to be boys’ – and somehow says it’s okay for men to do irreparable harm to girls.”


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