Why This Sexual Assault Survivor Who Broke Her Silence To Empower Others Is At The SOTU

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The #MeToo movement has been showing up on the red carpet this award season as celebrities dressed in black to bring awareness to the problems of sexual harassment and assault. And now politicians are taking a leaf out of their book. After some members of Congress were driven out of office by past misconduct, lawmakers are bringing guests to the State of the Union that reflect the importance of the movement, and one of the SOTU guests is Chessy Prout, the young woman who went public about being sexually assaulted at an elite East Coast boarding school.

Prout, who initially remained anonymous, accused a fellow student of sexually assaulting her when she was just 15 and he was 18. In October 2015, Owen Labrie was convicted of three counts of misdemeanor statutory sexual assault, one count of endangering a child, and one class B felony for using a computer to seduce a minor. He claimed during the trial that they had kissed and engaged in foreplay but not penetration.

Prout accused him of trying to perform the "senior salute," in which an upperclassman has sex with a much younger classmate before graduation. At Labrie's sentencing hearing, Prout said:

Without just and right punishment, I really don’t know how I’ll put one foot in front of the other. I don’t want to feel imprisoned for the rest of my life. I want to be safe again. And I want justice.

A year after the trial, Prout decided to take a more active, and open, role in advocating for survivors of sexual assault.

"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 August 2016 interview. She started advocacy work with the nonprofit organization PAVE (Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment).

Now, she's back in the news because her family settled a lawsuit with the New Hampshire school where the assault took place, St. Paul’s School, an elite boarding school that educated well connected figures like former Secretary of State John Kerry. The amount was not reported, but Prout's family contended that the school was responsible for "fostering, permitting, and condoning a tradition of ritualized statutory rape.” The school's board of trustees president wouldn't expand on the settlement but said it was "a welcomed outcome, as the litigation is costly and disruptive for the school," The Boston Globe reported.

New Hampshire Rep. Ann McLane Kuster is the one who is bringing Prout to the State of the Union. "The conversation about sexual harassment and assault in our nation is long overdue but through the efforts of Chessy and the #MeToo movement it is finally gaining steam," the representative told CNN. "This is an issue that is deeply personal to me and I'm excited to host Chessy to signal that this national movement will continue to grow and succeed."

Following the settlement with the school, Prout is not stepping down from her open advocacy. She gave another interview to Today in December 2016 in which she described her mentality about being an advocate.

"I didn’t want to be put in a corner and go live a 'normal' life when nothing was normal about it," Prout said. "[In coming forward] I felt like I was finally able to do something positive with the terrible thing that had happened to me."