In a maintenance room at an elite boarding school, a 15-year-old girl, whose future includes a prestigious education most young women can only imagine, was grappling with something much more common: how to say no to a boy who isn’t taking no for an answer.
The unnamed girl, then a freshman at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, testified on Wednesday about an alleged rape that occurred on the roof of a building there in the spring of 2014. She says that as part of a school-wide ritual called “senior salute,” where senior boys attempt to “score” with freshman girls, an innocent kissing session turned into something criminal. Due to the trial, stories about the salute have emerged, with some saying the tradition is actually about “winning” by taking the virginity of a freshman girl.
The senior on trial, a then-18-year-old named Owen Labrie, used a key passed between male students seeking privacy to enter the maintenance room, where he took the girl and began to kiss her. She initially consented, but once he began grabbing at her underwear, she objected.
“I said, ‘No, no, no, keep it up here,’” said the girl, according to the New York Times. And then: “I tried to be as polite as possible.”
That last part will resonate with a lot of us, because if you’re a girl, being torn between standing up for yourself and not wanting to be rude is an almost universal experience. So often women (young and old, and yes, men too) keep quiet in situations like these, for fear of offending their attackers — most of whom they are friends with, or at least acquaintances — or stepping outside the bounds of how a proper, polite young person should act. And even if you do act as civilly as possible, there’s no guarantee that the other person will respond in kind.
In that one moment, there are so many things to consider: Will he hurt you if you say no? Is it easier to just give in and let your mind go somewhere else? What if he gets angry, upset, violent, physical? What if he stops, but then spreads rumors about you afterward, damaging, hurtful rumors that completely alter the tenor of your high-school experience? There are no rules for this, no decisive wisdom to rely on. In that moment, the girl at St. Paul’s did what a lot of girls do: She froze.
“I wanted to not cause a conflict,” she said, according to the Times. “I felt like I was frozen.”
The encounter may have been sparked by an unfamiliar school ritual, but for most young women, there is nothing unfamiliar about what happened next.