Chessy Prout Believes That Sexual Assault Survivors Deserve To Be Heard, So She Wrote A Book For Them

Photo courtesy of Heather Donlan

When Chessy Prout decided to shed her anonymity as the survivor of a widely publicized sexual assault at St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, she was making an important point on behalf of survivors everywhere: I have the right to tell my story. Though her attacker, Owen Labrie, was ultimately convicted on three misdemeanor statutory rape charges, a misdemeanor of endangering a child, and one felony charge for using a computer to lure a minor for sex, Prout was the one tried and convicted among her peers at St. Paul's School. (As she details in her memoir, lawyers for St. Paul's School asked a federal court to force Prout to shed her anonymity and bar her family from discussing the case, a key factor in her decision to ultimately come forward on her own terms.)

Since she identified herself, she hasn't stopped telling her story. Her new book, I Have The Right To, is just one step in spreading the word about what it means to be a survivor of sexual assault in the hopes that one day it can become a thing of the past.

"I'm seeking empowerment right now, because I do lay myself kind of bare in this book," Prout tells Bustle, "but of course, the book doesn’t hold everything that’s been my life, and I’m much more than the book. I hope that it’ll help at least one person recognize that they’re not alone in their life."

In the two years since she decided to speak out, Prout has become one of the most prominent faces of the movement to end on-campus sexual assault. She launched a nonprofit, I Have The Right To, in the hopes that she could use her voice to engage participants to be a force for change. Since launching the campaign, sharing her story, and writing the book, Prout has heard from countless survivors who have found strength and comfort in the community of survivors she's created.

The tides has shifted in the favor of Prout and others like her in recent months, and this young activist hopes to use the momentum of #MeToo and Time's Up to create lasting systemic change. "I see the #IHaveARightTo campaign becoming the next step to the Time's Up movement. I see that being the way further — the survivors who write on social media and disclosing their story to say, 'OK, these are my rights. I have the right to tell my story, I have the right to seek justice,'" she says. "And now how are we gonna get our institutions and our government to let us do that safely? That’s the rallying call in this movement and that people start using that to claim their rights."

Prout graduated from high school in 2017, but she won't matriculate at Barnard College until fall 2018. She's spent her gap year writing her book — which came out in March — and traveling the country speaking to survivors, as well as pushing for policy changes to help end sexual assault, like making K-12 sexual education mandatory in schools. When she does enroll in college later this year, she plans to get an education that supports her lifetime work of ending sexual assault. Here's what she said about her book, being a survivor of sexual assault, and what comes next:

She Wrote This Book To Help Survivors Feel Less Alone

"The other reason why I decided to write a book in the first place was that after coming forward with my story and sharing my story, survivors would contact me or even friends I’ve know [and say]: The same thing happened to me and because I heard your story, I knew that what happened to me is sexual assault," she says. "So saving somebody from that confusion and self-blame and shame in the days after my assault, wondering what had happened to me and how I had let it happen to myself — which of course is absolutely wrong — I hope to save other survivors from that confusion that I felt."

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The #MeToo Movement Has Prout More Motivated Than Ever To Keep Fighting

Courtesy of Chessy Prout

"When the #MeToo movement started up with social media widely being used, it was incredible to see the power of the collective — the power of the collective voice on the internet. But it was also extremely depressing to see and realize that there are millions of other people in the world that felt the same despair and desolation that I had felt," she says. "That made me feel kind of hopeless: Well, how am I going to help all these people? Because I want to help them. I want to take away their pain and their fear. So that was pretty hard to see all the time — to see on the news, to be constantly reminded of my own assault. Seeing the power in these men and women’s voices and seeing their strengths and seeing their strengths through their vulnerabilities has been extremely inspiring and now I’m more motivated than ever to keep on fighting, because I feel like this really is the turning point."

Revisiting Her Sexual Assault Was A Painful Process, But One That She Feels Will Have Lasting Impact

Chessy Prout and her sister, photo courtesy of Chessy Prout

"Definitely writing about my life as it was matching up with the book and real life was hard to be retrospective when you’re in the moment," she says. "But I hope to share, because I think it’s so important to share what life is like after assault and how it can get better and how bad things still can happen but we can keep on getting through it with love and support."

In College, She Wants To Explore New Ways To Be A Champion For Sexual Assault Survivors

Courtesy of Chessy Prout

"I recognize that I don’t know a lot. I’ve got a lot to learn about lots of different things," she says. "I’ve got interests in so many different fields. I’m looking forward to spreading and diversifying my areas of study. And I know that advocacy will follow me wherever I go, because it’s something that I feel passionately about. ... I feel like advocacy can be integrated through any career or anything. And I love the arts, so I’ve been extremely inspired by some plays that I’ve seen in the last couple of years that have shown a human message that everybody can relate to and sympathize with. I hope to share my message of survivor advocacy through maybe the art forms, like theater or music."