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Sex misconduct revisits elite prep school already under fire

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — An elite New Hampshire prep school is facing new revelations about another competition of sexual conquest two years after a student was convicted of sexually assaulting a freshman as part of a tradition called "Senior Salute."

Eight boys in a St. Paul's School dorm in Concord apparently competed to have their names put on a crown, according to the Concord Monitor, which first reported on the matter. The school it learned about the game from students just before the June 4 commencement and has hired an outside investigator.

"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.

Concord police said they learned of the conquest competition while investigating a report of a sexual assault on campus involving students. But police said the competition 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," said Lt. Sean Ford. "I would assume the school would be vigilant in monitoring of that concerning behavior if it is going on."

The allegations appear similar to those in the case of Owen Labrie, prompting criticism 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 competed 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. "St. Paul's School is operating in a bubble of denial, and their students are paying the consequences," Prout told the AP in a statement Friday. "Real people are being harmed because of the students' irresponsible and damaging actions and the administration's inaction. When will school administrators and trustees show real leadership that truly puts the wellbeing of students ahead of their own reputation?"

Prout's father, who is also a graduate of the school, reacted to the latest allegations 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.

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.

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.

Associated Press writer Michael Casey contributed to this report.