I find it funny (funny as in sad, not funny as in "ha ha") that Owen Labrie, a 19 year-old senior at an "elite" New Hampshire boarding school, is on trial for rape, and that coverage of his trial is the 8th most emailed article in the New York Times today.
Maybe that's because many readers of the New York Times find it shocking that one of their own--a Harvard-bound white boy from New England attending John Kerry's alma mater--would risk throwing his whole privileged life away by sexually assaulting a fifteen year-old girl in a boiler room.
But the truth is, this wasn't a high-stakes game for Mr. Labrie. After all, he was just following St. Paul's storied tradition "in which older students proposition younger ones for as much intimacy as they can get away with." In other words, he was just participating in the so-called "culture" of the school. That makes rape sound rather tasteful and dignified, doesn't it? The word "culture?" It certainly rolls off the tongue more easily than "crime scene."
Of course, not every student at these "elite" schools is "like that," whatever "that" is or means. But by and large, these institutions are infected with an entrenched sense of entitlement that is passed down from generation to generation in an ownership class that perpetually belies the myth of the American Dream. A "culture," as it were.
And it all boils down to one word: Entitlement.
Entitled to a private education at a high school with a "culture." Entitled to attend an Ivy League college debt and scholarship-free. Entitled to access the most influential people and secure from them the best jobs in the country. Entitled to drive luxury cars. Entitled to wear name-brand clothes. Entitled to multiple homes. Entitled to a more-than-fair trial under the stewardship of a "team" of private defense lawyers in the unlikely event you get caught committing a felony.
And what is rape, really? Isn't it the very essence of entitlement, reduced to its most base and primal manifestation? Yes, of course it is.
The act of rape is the ultimate expression of entitlement. Entitlement to another person's body. Entitlement to another person's dignity. Entitlement to whatever you want, whenever you want it, wherever you can get it; just because you can, because you deserve it, and because that's the way the world has always worked for you. Even if the thing you're taking is another human being's physical integrity and psychological sense of safety.
A relative of mine was recently raped by a grownup version of Owen Labrie. He was a lawyer, and after the attack he informed her--hauntingly and quite rightly--that "people like me get away with it all the time."
Statistically speaking, Mr. Labrie is likely to get away with it this time, too.