CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — As a 16-year-old girl waited to learn if jurors believed her when she said she was raped by a senior at an elite New Hampshire prep school, she took comfort and encouragement from the words of a victim in an equally high-profile rape case from nearly 20 years earlier.
Adrienne Bak was one of two girls raped by “Preppy rapist” Alex Kelly of Darien, Connecticut, in 1986. Now 45, Bak wrote to the girl who said she was raped by Owen Labrie just days before he graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord last year.
“One of the things that I felt so compelled to put in the letter was the feeling I had had that I wasn’t going to be believed by the jury,” Bak told The Associated Press. “The thought that you won’t be believed is just so devastating.”
When it reached a split verdict on Aug. 28, jurors signaled they didn’t believe Labrie’s claim that there was no intercourse, but also didn’t believe the girl’s when she said the intercourse was against her will. Labrie was convicted of having sex with a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and a felony count of using a computer to lure the girl, who was 15 at the time, to the encounter. He was acquitted of rape. Now 19, the Vermont man faces up to 11 years in prison when he’s sentenced.
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“It’s important for her to know there are people out there who believe her regardless of what this jury, or the defense attorney, says,” said Bak. The Associated Press doesn’t generally identify the victims of sex crimes but Bak has previously used her name publicly in connection with the Kelly case and wanted to be identified.
Support among victims of sexual assault is a growing phenomenon, illustrated recently by the cover of New York Magazine featuring the photograph of 35 women who have accused comedian Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them.
Laura Dunn, executive director of the victims’ advocacy group SurvJustice and a spokeswoman for Labrie’s victim and her family, confirmed that Bak’s letter was read to the girl during jury deliberations and “couldn’t have come at a better time.”
“It reminded the survivor and her family that they were not alone and standing up for a cause bigger than them,” Dunn said in an email.
Catherine Ruffle, lead prosecutor on the Labrie case, said the girl got more than a dozen letters during the trial.
“Some were from supporters saying how brave she was and commended her for having the strength to speak out,” Ruffle said. “Some were victims who said they didn’t have the same courage to speak out.”
Ruffle said the letters of support are helpful and meaningful.
“It is such a difficult process to navigate through the criminal system,” she said.
Bak, who was 16 when she was attacked, knows just how difficult.
Kelly fled the country on the eve of trial in 1987 and remained a fugitive, skiing throughout Europe, for eight years. He finally turned himself in Switzerland in January 1995, after federal agents searched his parents’ Darien home and found letters and postcards that revealed his whereabouts.
Kelly’s first trial — when Bak was the lead witness — ended in a mistrial. He was convicted after a second trial in 1997 and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He was released in 2007 after serving 10 years because of a law — since changed — that allowed time off for good behavior.
“I certainly know what it feels like to not win,” Bak said. “It didn’t end well the first time.”
Amanda Grady Sexton of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said victims of sex crimes often have experienced similar reactions such as feeling “frozen” during an attack. That was the word that Labrie’s victim used at trial.
Sexton said a high-profile case like Labrie’s can result in a sharp increase in calls to crisis centers, messages of encouragement from other victims and still others to step forward to report abuse.