One Assault Survivor Finds Power In Speaking Out

by Morgan Brinlee

Four months after identifying herself as the anonymous sexual assault survivor named in the St. Paul's School rape case, Chessy Prout is speaking out about the power of speaking up. In an interview with TODAY, Prout said coming out publicly has helped her to heal and feel empowered. Now 18, Prout is using her platform to help other victims of sexual assault feel safe and supported when coming forward with their own stories.

In 2014, Prout was involved in news story that made headlines across the country for exposing an alleged tradition of sexual misconduct at a prestigious New Hampshire boarding school. In August 2016, nearly two years after a then-18-year-old upperclassman allegedly sexually assaulted her at St. Paul's School, Prout came forward as the anonymous victim named in the case.

"It felt almost natural because I didn't want to keep quiet about it," Prout told TODAY in a Dec. 29 interview about her decision to reveal her identity in connection to the high-profile St. Paul's School rape case. "I didn’t want to be put in a corner and go live a 'normal' life when nothing was normal about it. [In coming forward] I felt like I was finally able to do something positive with the terrible thing that had happened to me."

In October 2015, Owen Labrie was acquitted of felony rape charges but convicted of two lesser misdemeanor charges — sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Labrie was also found guilty of using a computer to seduce a minor, a felony charge. Although he was sentenced to a year in prison and forced to register as a sex offender, Labrie was released on $15,000 bail pending his appeal and slapped with a 5 p.m. curfew while he lives with his mother in Vermont, according to the New York Times.

Four months after making her identity public, Prout said she doesn't regret coming forward. "I feel like a big pressure has been taken off of me, that I don't have to hide anything and conceal my feelings about certain topics anymore," she told TODAY.

According to Prout, speaking out about her assault has given her a sense of empowerment and further helped her heal by connecting her to others. "I've met new people and other survivors and traveled to different schools to speak," she told TODAY. "The human connection that I’ve made since then has been incredible and has helped me heal so much more." She advocates for creating supportive and empowering environments for sexual assault survivors to share their experiences and regain their sense of se.

In speaking out about her assault, Prout says she's been able to take back her identity and stand with fellow survivors in a way anonymity wouldn't allow. "For a while I tried to get back to normal life," Prout told Safe Magazine in an interview earlier this year. "I tried to be a normal 15-year-old girl. But the physical and emotional aftermath of a sexual assault is something I could have never imagined."

"In a situation where I had lost complete control," she continued, "I wanted to take it back. I want to help other women realize they can take it back too. I want to let them know that there's a community out in the world that's ready to stand up and fight for them and that they can come out and feel comfortable in speaking up for themselves and taking back their control."

Since revealing her identity, Prout has collaborated with PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment to launch #IHaveTheRightTo, a social media initiative aimed at empowering survivors of sexual violence and harassment to speak out without fear of shame or retaliation.

"I was bound to make the completely traumatizing experience of having to be in the courtroom for two weeks and turn that into something positive," Prout told TODAY. "I wasn't about to let that be something I delegated to the darkest corners of my mind that I try not to remember, because that is so unhealthy. So I decided to own that, too. I've been trying to face things head on."

Through #IHaveTheRightTo Prout advocates for protecting young girls' basic rights to their bodies, their safety, and their education, among other things.