Merrimack County, New Hampshire Judge Larry Smukler imposed sentence on Owen Labrie, the former St. Paul’s student, for the rape he didn’t commit. With cameras in the courtroom to capture his judicialishness, he gratuitously added his own moral scolding.
Judge Smukler also said that Mr. Labrie, in maintaining that he and the girl had not had sex, had stuck to the mantra, “Deny ’til you die,” which is sometimes used by St. Paul’s students. “In some ways, you’re a very good liar,” the judge said.
Judges have magical powers to tell such things as which witness is a very good liar, no matter what the jury found. There’s a little-known red light behind the bench that goes off when a witness is lying, but they’re not allowed to tell the jury. They alone can see it. And, of course, no male student at St. Paul’s tells the truth, because “Deny ’til you die” is something they “sometimes use” there.
And so, Judge Smukler did what judges are empowered to do.
“You’re going to do a year in the House of Corrections and probation,” he told Mr. Labrie. “That’s the bottom line.”
Mr. Labrie, whose probation will total five years, must also register as a sex offender.
It looks like he won’t be needing that Halloween costume tonight. And what, one may wonder, gave rise to the need for a sentence of incarceration?
The jury found that the girl had not successfully communicated a lack of consent, but “that does not mean the victim consented to the sexual penetration,” he said. “Indeed, it is clear from the impact of this crime that she did not.”
Granted, under the affirmative consent standard, the girl had no duty to communicate lack of consent. But that’s not the law. That the judge found she did not consent is, if words are to be believed, derived from the “impact.”
Appearing on a video screen, the victim of a sexual assault by an older student at one of the nation’s most exclusive boarding schools asked a judge here on Thursday to make sure her assailant was held accountable for a crime that, she said, had left her numb.
“What he did to me made me feel like I didn’t belong on this planet and that I would be better off dead,” the girl said.
She added: “Without just and right punishment, I really don’t know how I’ll put one foot in front of the other. I don’t want to feel imprisoned for the rest of my life. I want to be safe again. And I want justice.”
Very emotional. But that wasn’t all. That Labrie challenged the charges was yet another level of harm for which she demanded punishment.
The trial itself, she said, traumatized her further.
Of course, the only reason she was put through this final layer of trauma was the defendant’s intransigence in not pleading guilty for his crimes. The ones Judge Smukler says he lied about.
There was one felony conviction for using a computer to communicate with the victim. What are the chances of a computer being used when teens communicate these days? Smukler imposed a seven year suspended sentence for that conviction.
The victim appeared by video to give her impact statement, and it was quite melodramatic. Not to say that she didn’t have strong feelings about what happened to her, but that she would be “better off dead”? No doubt people will explain in agonizing language the horrors of a couple of teens engaging in some sort of sex where she failed to communicate her lack of consent.
But don’t blame the victim. That’s not allowed. After all, we don’t blame the victim of a robbery, right? Even though the analogy fails on every level, it’s repeated often enough that the hard of thinking are certain it must be right. Except it takes two to tango.
“My little girl stood up to this entitled young man,” her father said. “She stood up to the entitled culture at St. Paul’s School. She stood up to the rape culture that exists in our society and allows ‘boys to be boys.’ ”
Your “little girl” went to St. Paul’s too, and is every bit as “entitled” as this young man. Your “little girl” could have said “no” at any time, but she was attracted by this handsome, well-respected senior, and wanted to bask in the popularity that came with sex with him. Your “little girl” didn’t stand up to societal “rape culture,” whatever that means, by deciding after the fact that the conduct in which she willingly got involved was not, after the fact, what she wanted to do.
But the most troubling phrase is “boys will be boys.” Boys don’t rape. Men don’t rape. There is no “boys will be boys” excuse for rape. But this wasn’t rape. This was two kids who attended an elite boarding high school who did what kids who are sent away by the parents to be raised elsewhere do.
Kids will be kids, and that includes your “little girl.” A senior boy sought his “senior salute,” and a freshman girl was eager to give it to him. This is the sort of stuff kids do. No post-trial soliloquy makes kids behaving like kids the most horrible thing ever.
Owen Labrie, who remains out on bail pending appeal, will face a year in jail and a lifetime as a sex offender. His victim could get her own reality TV show on Bravo with the melodrama displayed at sentence. Judge Smukler will suffer no consequences for his part, even though he was supposed to be the grown-up in the room.