No longer the senior salute: NH prep school investigating report of new sex conquest game
CONCORD (AP) — An elite prep school is again under fire for allegations involving a game of sexual conquest similar to one a few years back where a student was charged with sexually assaulting a freshman over a sordid tradition called the "Senior Salute."
The allegations, first reported in the Concord Monitor, involve eight boys in a St. Paul's School dorm in Concord who apparently competed to have their names put on a crown. St. Paul's, one of the country's most selective boarding schools, learned about the game just before the June 4 commencement and launched an internal investigation.
"Kids will be disciplined in a swift and appropriate way should that investigation find any violation of our code of conduct. We take these things very seriously," Rector Michael Hirschfeld told The Associated Press on Friday.
In a statement, the school said it was alerted about the allegations by students.
"The school immediately began an investigation into those behaviors," the school said. "The School also hired an outside investigator to review the allegations and talk to all of the students involved to get to the bottom of what took place. This investigation is ongoing, and we do not yet have a final report."
Concord police said they learned of the conquest game while investigating a reported sexual assault on campus involving students.
But police said the game wasn't linked to their ongoing investigation at the school.
"If that conquest game is existing at St. Paul's or anywhere, it's extremely alarming to us," Lt. Sean Ford told the AP. "I would assume the school would be vigilant in monitoring of that concerning behavior if it is going on."
The allegations appear strikingly similar to those in the case of Owen Labrie and demonstrate to some critics that the school's efforts to change the culture at St. Paul's have fallen short.
Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was acquitted in 2015 of raping a 15-year-old classmate, Chessy Prout, the previous year as part of the Senior Salute, in which boys compete to take the virginity of younger girls before getting their diplomas. He was convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault, child endangerment and using a computer to lure the girl for sex, a felony that requires him to register as a sex offender for life.
Although sentenced to a year in jail, the 21-year-old Labrie has remained free under curfew while he appeals his convictions. He was 18 at the time of the assault.
Prout's father, who is also a graduate of the school, reacted to the latest allegations on Thursday on Facebook.
"Very painful for our family to learn sexual assault and sex competition continue at SPS despite what was exposed during the senior salute criminal trial. Girls as conquest targets, not human beings.... what is going on?" Alexander Prout wrote, including a link to the Concord Monitor report.
The AP typically doesn't identify victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, as Chessy Prout has done.
The school has denied it has a culture of sexual abuse but has taken a number of measures recently to address the issue. It has hired outside teams to examine student culture; brought in experts to train the faculty on adolescent relationships, consent, sexuality and culture; and reviewed and upgraded security on campus.
Amanda Grady Sexton, the Director of Public Affairs for the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, stated, “This school has more than a 60 year history of documented sexual assault on its campus, and it would be short sighted to think that these crimes haven’t had a deep effect on student culture today. This situation is nothing more than the senior salute dressed up with a crown."
Sexton continued to say, "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 new allegation comes just weeks after the prep school held forums for current and former students to discuss a recently released report on sexual misconduct at the school spanning decades. The report found credible allegations against 13 former faculty and staff, along with evidence the school failed to either protect students or fully investigate their complaints when asked 17 years ago.
The school requested the investigation last year following news reports about Howard White, who was fired from St. George's School in Rhode Island for sexual misconduct in 1974 and had previously worked at St. Paul's. The former Episcopal priest pleaded guilty last week to sexually assaulting a student while working at St. George's School and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
St. Paul's, a 161-year-old institution, has long educated future members of America's elite. Its alumni include former Secretary of State John Kerry and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who is now the special counsel leading an investigation into potential coordination between Russia and President Donald Trump's campaign.