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St. Paul’s rape case calls for reevaluation of consent

Last week, Owen Labrie, a St. Paul’s school graduate, was tried for the rape of a 15-year-old classmate. His trial brought into question the many discrepancies of the justice system when it comes to sexual assault. 

In most states, one has to be able to prove force was used on the victim for the crime to be considered rape. Labrie’s case was unusual for many reasons, the strangest of which was the verdict hinged entirely on the concept of consent. 

The outdated belief that force is the only means of sexual assault has recently begun to shift into a new, less tolerant view. Phrases like “no means no” and “got consent” are rapidly becoming part of our ideology. Implied consent is no longer enough to justify sex, and open communication is beginning to flourish between partners.

According to The New York Times, Labrie admitted the male seniors at his school participated in a challenge called Senior Salute where they competed to see how many girls they could sleep with before they graduated.

Labrie sent an email inviting the 15-year-old girl to join him on the roof of a building on campus before leading her to a machine room to which he had a key. Once there, Labrie began to make advances on the girl. 

The same article stated the girl claimed she and Labrie did have sex, though she “said ‘no’ three times.” Labrie completely denied the accusations, saying while he did originally plan for that to happen, he changed his mind at the last minute.

As the trial progressed, the victim did admit to allowing Labrie to remove some of her clothes but explained, “I wanted to not cause a conflict … I felt like I was frozen,” as stated in The New York Times.

Labrie’s other classmates stated he did in fact tell them he had sex with the girl, but Labrie claimed he was lying in an attempt to show off to his friends.

The jury found Labrie not guilty of three counts of felony sexual assault, but did find him guilty of three counts of misdemeanor sex assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and using a computer to entice a minor, which may result in up to seven years in prison with an additional year for each misdemeanor conviction, according to MSNBC. 

This trial has brought the question “what is consent” to the forefront of many legal discussions. There is an ongoing attempt, led by Northwestern University law professor Deborah Tuerkheimer, to reform state rape laws and the Model Penal Code, which incorporate the force requirement in their definitions of rape.

Labrie’s case has many questioning the qualifications of rape. The victim said ‘no’ multiple times but, because she did not fight him off, the jury was unable to fully convict him. 

It is time for the outdated definition of rape to merge with the growing consent-focused society. Changing the definition of rape will lead to a justice system that can no longer ignore the sexual assault problem prevalent in our country. Only yes means yes; anything else should be considered assault.


Breanne Williams is a junior majoring in mass