Slaying the Monster
by Katherine White
One with Heart Self-Defense Program Coordinator
For the last 20 years I have taught self-defense to women and children. Many come to class most concerned about stranger assault. These assaults can happen and it is important to feel confident and prepared to handle them. But the reality is most assaults are committed by someone we know. Many predatory offenders are bright, charming, and well thought of. The myth that the monster is a crazy stranger hiding in dark can make it difficult for us to assess risk accurately and can prevent our justice system from doing its job – getting the monster off the street. This story recently received national attention and is a good example of how pervasive and dangerous myths about who commits sexual assault can be.
Owen Labrie won the contest to ‘slay’ the most girls in 2014. What does that mean? He manipulated, conned, deceived, charmed and coerced more young girls than any other guy on campus into having sex with him as part of a tradition called ‘senior salute’ at the elite St. Paul’s school in New Hampshire.
Labrie kept a bucket list of girls he targeted to become his winning conquests. What methods does Labrie credit with becoming the champion ‘slaymaster?’ According to a Facebook message he sent a friend: “Feign intimacy…then stab them in the back…THROW EM IN THE DUMPSTER.”
This sounds like the acquaintance rapes we are hearing so much about on college campuses, but St. Paul’s isn’t a college, it is a college prep high school, and for the most part these students are not legally adults. This ended up being a problem for 18 year old Labrie. One of his victims was only 15 and in New Hampshire sex with anyone under 16 years old is considered statutory rape.
Labrie lured the 15 year old freshman to the school rooftop with the following email: “I want to invite you to come with me, to climb these hidden steps, and to bask in the nicest view.” Unaware of who she was dealing with she accepted Labrie’s invitation thinking they would kiss and fool around. She had no intention of having sex. Labrie forced himself on her, bragged about it later to friends saying he “used every trick in the book.” She reported the assault to police.
Labrie was charged with three counts of felonious aggravated assault (rape), but the jury couldn’t believe the intercourse was not consensual, so he was acquitted. Labrie denied that intercourse happened at all, but physical evidence proved he was lying, so he was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of statutory sexual assault and one count of using the internet to lure his victim to the scene of the crime. He was sentenced to one year in prison for statutory rape, although he could have received the maximum sentence of 11 years. And, because he used the internet in the commission of a crime (only considered a crime because the girl was 15), he must register as a sex offender for life.
When Labrie was sentenced on Oct. 29, the public began to cry foul – not because the sentence is too light, but because it is too harsh. The Sunday Oregonian (Nov. 8) published an opinion piece by columnist Ruth Marcus originally written for the Washington Post. She is unsettled over the harshness of his sentence, “hopelessly conflicted” over the year he has to spend in jail and absolutely opposed to his having to register as a sex offender. Why? Because despite what he did to this 15 year old girl, he doesn’t look like a predatory sex offender to her. In fact she says “Registering sex offenders is designed to protect the community against the threat of a repeat predator, of which Labrie is not.”
I wonder how many of the girls on his bucket list would agree. How many of them feel they were raped but did not come forward? The one who did report the rape has been harassed and humiliated on campus as is often the case in acquaintance rapes. She knew what she was in for and had the courage to come forward anyway.
How did the other girls feel when they found out what Labrie wrote about his conquests: “Funkin’ (sic) hate girls so much. Another dumb cum-bucket struck from my nut sucking, suck it slut, slut fucking bucket list.”
These words are public record, yet Labrie charmed the jury, charmed the public, and even charmed the professional psychologist who counseled him. His counselor, Dr. Edmond Piper, sent a letter to the judge, recommending he not be required to register as a sex offender. In his letter he calls him “a remarkable young man” who “stoically endures, expectantly awaiting fateful closure. I cannot but admire his fortitude.” (The Guardian, Oct 29, 2015)
This remarkable young man is cruel, heartless, and appears completely lacking in empathy; characteristics of a psychopath. During his trial, the girl he assaulted broke down while talking about the trauma of the attack and how it has shattered the life she knew. Labrie sat stone-faced, emotionless. But when he heard the verdict, he doubled over sobbing. His tears, his emotions, are all for himself.
How has he convinced so many bright, educated people like Marcus, Piper and a jury of 12 that he is not a monster? According to Anna Salter in her book Predators, psychopaths have extraordinary superficial charm and ability to con and manipulate. She gives numerous examples of psychopaths, imprisoned for terrible crimes, who charmed counselors, social workers and prison guards right out of their jobs, families and self-respect by getting them to cross personal and professional boundaries.
We have a strong cultural mythology about who the monster is, particularly when it comes to sexual assault. He is a big, scary, stranger lurking in the dark. A loser with nothing going for him. It is hard to see young, attractive, charming Owen Labrie with everything going for him, including a full scholarship to Harvard, as the monster. We want to admire him for his hopes, his dreams, his hard work. And it is true, he has hopes and dreams – but only for himself. Where is his capacity to care about the hopes and dreams of others? His words, his actions, the violence he has already committed in his young life, are as scary as the big stranger lurking in the dark.
This looks like a case where law enforcement did everything it could to get the monster off the street, but the jury and popular opinion are not ready to see outside the myth. The young women at Harvard can be thankful that Owen Labrie’s admittance was revoked and he is spending this year in prison rather than putting together his bucket list at college. But in a year he will be back, as young and bright and charming as ever.