St. Paul's Sexual Assault Survivor Chessy Prout Is Finally Telling Her Side of the Story
It's easy to forget that Chessy Prout is only 19 years old. Over the phone, at times she sounds more like a seasoned women's rights advocate than a soon-to-be college freshman. But Prout has lived through more than your average teen. At just 15 years old, she was sexually assaulted by Owen Labrie on the grounds of St. Paul's, a tony boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire.
During the subsequent criminal trial, her identity was leaked by trolls on the internet, and shortly after, she came forward publicly, outing herself on the Today show.
"I feel ready to stand up and own what happened to me,” Prout told Savannah Guthrie at the time.
Now, she's taking back her narrative again, in a memoir titled I Have the Right To, A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope.
"So often victims and survivors aren’t given a voice through this process. They’re protected under anonymity, but at times that can really hurt us as much as it helps us," Prout tells me over the
"I felt like I was strong enough to share my story and hopefully offer an inside look into at least one survivor’s mind," she says.
The text recounts her sexual assault and her multiple trials in explicit detail. She says she "wanted to tell the harsh honest truth of what it’s really like to go through something like this" in hopes that it might help readers understand the survivors in their lives.
To put it mildly, Prout doesn't paint a lovely picture of her former high school in the book. (She transferred back home to a school in Naples, Florida after the attack.) Throughout the text, she recounts the misogyny she faced at the formerly all-male institution, at one point describing St. Paul's as a place where "everything was about status, tradition, and hierarchy—and guys ruled all three."
Chessy Prout with her family following her high school graduation.
She also writes that her assault was part of a tradition called the "senior salute," which Prout describes as "a well-known ritual at St. Paul's where sixth formers [seniors] tried to make out with as many younger girls as possible before graduation. It usually started around May, when they invited girls to a secret spot with the hopes of hooking up."
Following the publication of Prout's book, St. Paul's issued a statement, which praises Prout for her advocacy. "We fully support Chessy’s trailblazing work to give a voice to sexual assault victims. Chessy bravely stepped forward to address an issue important not just to schools, but to the entire country," it reads, but then goes on to criticize her account of what happened to her.
"The senior salute—something similar to asking someone out—was never a tradition and was not about assault or coercion. The school has no tradition or culture that would ever allow or condone what happened to Chessy. We teach students extensively about sexual assault prevention, and have strengthened our robust programs on health, well-being, and mutual respect."
Earlier this year, Prout's parents settled with the school for an undisclosed amount. The federal lawsuit, which was filed in June of 2016, claimed the assault was a "direct result of [St. Paul’s] fostering, permitting, and condoning a tradition of ritualized statutory rape."
Prout's attacker, Labrie, was acquitted of rape in 2015, but convicted of three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault, endangering a child, and the felony of using computer services to lure a minor. He has had to register as a sex offender and is currently petitioning the New Hampshire Supreme Court for a new trial.
Chessy Prout with her father and younger sister at the Women's March in Naples.
Not long after Prout finished writing her memoir with investigative reporter Jenn Abelson, #MeToo consumed the headlines in America, forcing a national conversation about sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace.
Prout has mixed feelings about the movement. "Frankly, it's been infuriating to see #MeToo take hold," she says, "because you see the rampant sexism and fear that women have to deal with and feel in the workplace, in schools, anywhere they are."
"But it’s also inspiring to see people begin to care, to see conversations start on social media, on the news, everywhere," she continues. "People who are in power can’t ignore our voices for long."
Prout says she's found a "second family" in the advocacy community, and she has worked with Annie Kuster, the Democratic Representative from New Hampshire's second congressional district, to advocate for survivors on several occasions. But when I ask about her own political ambitions, Prout isn't committing to running for office just yet.
"I have to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I do know that advocacy will always have a place in it," she says. "I just want to learn how best I can
For now, she's simply preparing to be a regular student at Barnard College in New York City.
"I’m looking forward to learning again, going to school and being in New York City, with Broadway down the street. I’m excited to be there," she says. "I’m excited
For more information on Prout and the #IHavetheRightto movement and non-profit, visit www.ihavetherightto.org.
I Have the Right To, $12.91
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.