Prosecutors in the rape trial of New Hampshire prep school graduate Owen Labrie say a practice of sexual conquest at St. Paul's School known as the "Senior Salute" will be central to the case. (AP)

He was a senior and she was 15 when he allegedly raped her on the roof of a school building last spring. At the elite St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., which boasts a century and a half of famous alumni and a vast, bucolic campus that would put many colleges to shame, this was a different, sordid kind of tradition.

It was called the “senior salute,” Owen Labrie told Concord police, according to the Associated Press. Before they graduate, senior men at St. Paul’s competed to sleep with as many younger students as possible. “Score” was kept in permanent marker on a wall behind the washing machines, then, after the school kept painting over it, in an online forum.

Labrie was “trying to be number one,” he acknowledged to police.

This week, Labrie will stand trial for several felonies, including sexual assault and use of a computer to lure the girl to him, the Concord Monitor reported. But the case is also expected to cast a harsh light on the campus culture at St. Paul’s, where, according to an affidavit cited by the Monitor, administrators have been combating a culture of “sexual scoring.”

Labrie, now 19, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He has repeatedly told police that he did not have sex with the alleged victim.


The entrance to St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. (Jim Cole/AP)

According to the affidavit obtained by the Monitor, Labrie sent the freshman girl a “senior salute” e-mail asking her to “hook up” with him four days before graduation. She initially declined, but then agreed on the understanding that “hook up” referred to kissing. Two days later, on May 30, 2014, Labrie allegedly took the girl to the top of the school’s math and science building.

They kissed, then Labrie allegedly began to pull off her underwear. She resisted several times and twice told him “no,” according to the affidavit.

The sexual assault nurse examiner at Concord Hospital found that the alleged victim had “a laceration that would be consistent with penetration having occurred,” the Monitor reported.

In an interview with police, Labrie denied having sex with the girl. According to the AP, he told police that the freshman girl had wanted to have sex, but he had a moment of “divine inspiration” and stopped.

Labrie said that he tried to encourage other students not to engage in “Senior Salute.” As a prefect in his dorm, he had received training in statutory rape laws and consensual sex.

“The school has to put its foot down on this culture,” Labrie said, according to the affidavit. “It’s not healthy.”


Owen Labrie is seen July 31 in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord, N.H. (Lynne Tuohy/AP)

Labrie graduated two days later, at a ceremony where he was honored with the Rector’s Award for “selfless devotion to school activities,” the AP reported. He was due to attend Harvard University, where he planned to study religion, but did not enroll in the fall.

News of the charges, filed last summer, has prompted some soul searching at St. Paul’s. In a letter to parents in July 2014, Rector Michael Hirschfeld called the allegations disturbing, according to the Boston Globe.

“I am determined to learn if this alleged violation is an aberration or represents a broader issue,” Hirschfeld wrote. “This is as much a question about the nature and quality of relationships our students have with one another as it is about upholding basic standards of respect.”

The highly selective boarding school, once attended by chief executives, writers, ambassadors, half a dozen members of Congress and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, is a member of the Eight Schools Association — a sort of “Ivy League for prep schools,” the AP said. A year on the lush, 2,000-acre campus, studded with imposing stone Gothic buildings, pristine athletic facilities, an observatory and a pond, costs $55,895 — more than tuition, room and board at many colleges.

But the case suggests that the issue of campus sexual assault, which has touched off controversy at so many colleges in the past few years, might also exist at the prep schools that feed into them.

“I’m not surprised by it, to be honest,’’ 1996 alumnus Shamus Khan told the Globe in 2014. “But I wouldn’t be that surprised by it at any college or high school.”

Khan, a Columbia University sociology professor, wrote “Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School” about his alma mater.

When Labrie’s trial begins this week, prosecutors are expected to call several witnesses to testify about the sexual culture at St. Paul’s. The jury will also make a visit to the school, according to the Concord Monitor.

One current student told the Globe that the school’s sexual culture was “really casual,” and that the “senior salute” was a way for graduating students to connect with classmates they’d always liked.

But in an e-mail to the Boston Globe, 2011 alumna Carolyn Forrester wrote that many details of the case seemed like “business as usual” for the campus culture.

“This incident felt both out of the blue and like it had been waiting to happen for a long time,” she wrote.