Victim of prep school sex assault 'not afraid or ashamed'

Girl’s parents have sued school, saying it should have done more to protect daughter

By Michael Casey
Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A teen who was sexually assaulted during a game of sexual conquest at a prestigious New Hampshire prep school said Tuesday she is no longer ashamed or afraid and hopes to be a voice for others.

Chessy Prout made her first public comments about the assault in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, telling what happened to her at St. Paul’s School in 2014 when she was a 15-year-old freshman.

“It’s been two years now since the whole ordeal, and I feel ready to stand up and own what happened to me and make sure other people — other girls and boys — don’t need to be ashamed, either,” said Prout, now 17 and about to start her senior year at a different school.

The Associated Press normally does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Prout has now spoken publicly about the case.

Former St. Paul’s student Owen Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was arrested in 2014, days after graduating from the Concord school. Prosecutors say he assaulted the girl as part of a competition known as the Senior Salute in which some seniors sought to have sex with underclassman.

Jurors convicted Labrie last year of misdemeanor sex assault charges and a felony charge of using a computer to lure the student. They acquitted on three counts of felony sexual assault.

“They said that they didn’t believe that he did it knowingly, and that frustrated me a lot because he definitely did do it knowingly,” Prout said. “And the fact that he was still able to pull the wool over a group of people’s eyes bothered me a lot and just disgusted me in some way.”

Labrie was sentenced to a year in jail, but he remains free pending appeal.

Prout said she doesn’t think about him but does “hope he gets help.”

“If he doesn’t learn, he will do it to another young woman,” she said.

When she returned to school after the trial, Prout said she got a chilly reception, especially from some of her male classmates. “Everybody knew. None of my old friends who were boys would talk to me,” she said. “They didn’t even look me in the eyes. ... Nobody was talking about the issue in itself. They weren’t trying to prevent it from happening to anyone else.”

Prout left St. Paul’s and her parents have since sued the school, arguing it should have done more to protect their daughter. The school has denied it could have prevented the assault, but it has since taken steps to “prevent and reduce risky adolescent behavior.”

As part of that federal lawsuit, the school demanded that the victim be identified. It argued that its right to a fair trial would be jeopardized if it couldn’t identify Prout. As a result, lawyers for the family filed an amended complaint Monday identifying the parents for the first time and then Prout went public Tuesday.

“She refuses to be intimated by the school’s effort to publicly expose her identity at trial,” Steven D. Silverman, one of the attorneys for the family, told the Associated Press. “She has found her voice after remaining quiet for several years out of respect for the criminal justice system and the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

In the television interview, Prout said she sometimes gets panic attacks because of the assault and hides in her closet. Visibly shaken, Prout talked about how her little sister would come into her closet “when I’m rocking on the floor and punching my legs, trying to get myself to calm down and she’ll try to give me the biggest hug and she’ll say Chessy you’re OK, Chessy you’re OK.”

“I can’t imagine how scary it is for other people to have to do this alone,” said Prout, who credited her family with helping her get through the ordeal. “I don’t want anybody else to be alone anymore. I don’t.”

 

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