The teenage victim of a high-profile campus sexual assault has revealed her identity for the first time—along with her plan to help other survivors.
In an interview with NBC’s Today, Chessy Prout, now 17, told Savannah Guthrie that she hoped going public with her story would send a message to other victims of sexual assault that they “don’t have to be ashamed either.”
It’s been more than two years since Prout was assaulted by Owen Labrie, now 20, at the elite St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. “I feel ready to stand up and own what happened to me, and I’m going to make sure that other people—other boys and girls—know that they can own it too.”
One night in late May of 2014, Prout had agreed to meet with Owen in a planned encounter that arose from the so-called “Senior Salute,” an unofficial tradition at St. Paul’s wherein male and female upperclassmen attempted to hook up with younger students before graduating.
Labrie took Prout to a dark mechanical room in the math and science building on campus. Prout, who was only 15 at the time, knew she was Labrie’s “Senior Salute” target.
But when reporting her case to authorities (and testifying in a criminal trial last summer), she said she hadn't wanted their encounter to escalate sexually--and that Labrie had raped her.
A jury found Labrie guilty on three misdemeanor counts of sexually assaulting Prout, which he is trying to appeal, but acquitted him of felony sexual assault charges.
Prout told Guthrie that she vehemently disagreed with the jury’s decision.
“They said they didn’t believe he did it knowingly,” she said on Today. “That frustrated me a lot because he definitely did do it knowingly.
“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,” she added. Likewise the defense’s decision to reveal friendly messages that she and Labrie exchanged after the assault, citing them as evidence that their encounter was consensual.
Prout told Guthrie it was important that people understand the “effects of the crime.”
At one point during the three days that she testified in court, Labrie’s attorney asked Prout why she was so “hazy” during that period when she and Labrie exchanged messages.
“I looked at [him] in disbelief and said, ‘I was raped!’” Prout told Guthrie.
Research has shown that sexual assault victims frequently don’t recognize the extent of the crime right away, or purposely downplay it to themselves because they’re ashamed of what happened.
After the assault, Prout returned to school the following semester and found that “none of my old friends that were boys would talk to me. They wouldn’t look me in the eye. I guess they were uncomfortable,” she said.
She felt betrayed by fellow students and the school, and left before the end of the first semester.
“Nobody was talking about the issue itself. They weren’t trying to prevent it from happening,” she told Guthrie.
Prout also thought Labrie would privately acknowledge what had happened that night, and said she and her family would have dropped the criminal case if he’d simply written her an apology letter.
“We had been prepared to just move forward with our lives, and to let them move forward with their lives,” she said. “But, you know what, in the pursuit of justice I would have done anything.”
Prout was joined by her family during the interview: her father, St. Paul’s alumnus Alexander Prout and mother Susan Prout, and her older sister Lucy, who graduated from the prep school in Labrie’s class.
This summer, the Prouts pseudonymously sued the school for failing to address the predatory hook-up culture on campus that they believe led to Chessy’s assault, seeking $75,000 in damages.
The suit refers to the “Senior Salute” as a “campus-wide competition that encouraged senior men to commit statutory rape” and to treat underage female students as “targets of desire.”
“We’re talking about children and we feel an obligation that this not happen to any future kids at the school,” Alexander Prout told Guthrie.
Susan Prout added: “You’d think the campus would say, ‘Uh oh, we need to talk about what’s happened,’ but we didn’t see that happening. If ever there was a family to work with, it would have been our family. We loved the school. My husband had a wonderful experience there. We thought our first daughter had a good experience there. Unfortunately, it seems like the school’s reputation became more important, rather than supporting our daughter.”
The school issued a statement denying wrongdoing: “We categorically deny that there ever existed at the school a culture or tradition of sexual assault. However, there’s no denying the survivor’s experience caused us to look anew at the culture and … brought about positive changes.”
St. Paul’s has further denied that it could have prevented the sexual assault, writing in a response to the Prouts’ suit that only Chessy and Labrie “know what happened” on the night they met up.
Responding to the Prouts’ motion to retain their pseudonyms during legal proceedings, the school wrote in a separate court filing that while it didn’t object to the court protecting the Prouts’ anonymity, the Prouts had to agree to not make “further public statements” about the civil suit “until litigation is completed.”
The school also asked for permission to refer to the victim and her family by name during pretrial deposition and at trial.
Though the Prouts didn’t say so forthrightly in their interview on Today, the judge’s approval of this motion was part of the impetus for Chessy and her family to speak out publicly.
Prout said she doesn’t think much about Labrie, who began serving his one-year jail sentence early, in March, after a journalist caught him violating his curfew. He was on the train to visit his girlfriend at Harvard at the time.
“I hope he learns,” Prout said stoically when asked about Labrie. “I hope he gets help, and that’s all I can ever hope for in any sort of process like this, because if he doesn’t learn, he will do it to another young woman.”
Prout also said she had launched a sexual assault advocacy initiative and social media campaign with the hashtag #IHaveTheRightTo, which she hopes will make others “feel empowered and just strong enough to be able to say, ‘I have the right to my body, I have the right to say no.’”
She recognizes that other survivors don’t have the support system that she has—primarily, her family.
“Somebody’s got my back and somebody’s going to believe me, somebody’s going to help me,” Prout said, becoming emotional for the first time when describing how she locks herself in her closet when she has panic attacks, so that her younger sister doesn’t see her in that state.
“She comes into my room sometimes and she’ll come into my closet when I’m rocking on the floor and punching my legs trying to get myself to calm down,” Prout said through tears. “And she’ll give me the biggest hug and 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. I don’t want anyone else to be alone anymore.”