Two years ago, Chessy Prout was a freshman at St. Paul's School, a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire where she was a legacy student. She reportedly went on a date with senior Owen Labrie on May 30th, 2014, according to Variety, and that night has since consumed much of her life. Prout is publicly speaking out against Labrie for the first time since she accused him of sexually assaulting her on that late spring night. She has been protected from the media by anonymity laws during the extensive and difficult trial, but Prout is stepping forward this week to talk about her experience for a noble cause.
"I want other people to 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,'" Prout told Today in an exclusive interview. That phrase is the center point of Prout's new public life. The 17-year-old is partnering with the nonprofit organization PAVE (Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment) to spread awareness of her story. She's starting a hashtag #IHaveTheRightTo to increase the understanding of what sexual assault is and what lines it crosses, which is one reason her assailant didn't get convicted of more serious charges than he did.
"[The court] 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 told Today. That blurry area where inadequate education can lead to devastating consequences is what Prout is trying to eradicate, and she powerfully gave up a life without public attention in order to pursue that goal.
Prout is also working to change an alleged culture of sexual assault at St. Paul's School, which reportedly permeates many other elite boarding schools as well. In the past several years, alumni and students at several such schools, including Phillips Exeter Academy and St. George's School, have come forward with similar claims. At St. Paul's, Prout was reportedly the victim of a tradition in which older boys prey upon younger girls in a competition.
"We categorically deny that there ever existed at the School a culture or tradition of sexual assault," St. Paul's School said in a statement issued to Today. "However, there’s no denying the survivor’s experience caused us to look anew at the culture and environment. This fresh look has brought about positive changes at the School."
Prout and her family are currently involved in a civil suit against the school to create a more supportive program for victims, which Prout said she didn't get during her experience. "There was just no recognition that I had gone through something like this," Prout said. "And that is one of the reasons why we're pushing for change."
Prout seems to recognize that there is more power in speech than silence, and wants to use her resources to be a voice for others. By stepping into the spotlight to tell her emotional story, she's pushing forward for victim advocacy and assault awareness, and selflessly working to make sure that no one has to live through what she has.