CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A teen who was sexually assaulted during a game of sexual conquest at a prestigious New Hampshire prep school said Tuesday that she is no longer ashamed or afraid and hopes to be a voice for others.
Chessy Prout made her first public comments about the assault in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, telling what happened to her at St. Paul’s School in 2014 when she was a 15-year-old freshman.
“It’s been two years now since the whole ordeal, and I feel ready to stand up and own what happened to me and make sure other people — other girls and boys — don’t need to be ashamed, either,” said Prout, now 17 and about to start her senior year at a different school.
The Associated Press typically does not identify victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, as Prout has done.
Former St. Paul’s student Owen Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was arrested in 2014, days after graduating from the Concord school. Prosecutors say he assaulted the girl as part of a competition known as the Senior Salute in which some seniors sought to have sex with underclassman.
Jurors convicted Labrie last year of misdemeanor sex assault charges and a felony charge of using a computer to lure the student. They acquitted him on three counts of felony sexual assault.
“They 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 said. “And 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.”
Labrie was sentenced to a year in jail, but he remains free pending appeal. In response to Prout’s interview, Labrie’s lead attorney, Jaye Rancourt, issued a statement.
“We remain hopeful that Owen will receive a new trial where the full truth will be disclosed,” Rancourt told The Associated Press.
When she returned to school after the trial, Prout said she got a chilly reception, especially from some of her male classmates.
“Everybody knew. None of my old friends who were boys would talk to me,” she said. “They didn’t even look me in the eyes.”
Prout left St. Paul’s and her parents have since sued the school, arguing it should have done more to protect her. The school has denied it could have prevented the assault, but it has since taken steps to “prevent and reduce risky adolescent behavior.”
In response to Prout’s interview, the school released a statement saying it “admires her courage and condemns unkind behavior toward her.”
“We have always placed the safety and well-being of our students first and are confident that the environment and culture of the school have supported that,” it said. “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 environment. This fresh look has brought about positive changes at the School.”
As part of the lawsuit, the school demanded that Prout be identified. It argued that its right to a fair trial would be jeopardized if it couldn’t identify her. As a result, lawyers for the family filed an amended complaint Monday identifying the parents for the first time and then Prout went public Tuesday.
“She refuses to be intimidated by the school’s effort to publicly expose her identity at trial,” Steven D. Silverman, one of the attorneys for the family, told the AP. “She has found her voice after remaining quiet for several years out of respect for the criminal justice system and the defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
In the television interview, Prout said she sometimes gets panic attacks because of the assault and hides in her closet. Prout talked about how her little sister would come into her closet “when I’m rocking on the floor and punching my legs, trying to get myself to calm down, and she’ll try to give me the biggest hug, and she’ll say, ‘Chessy, you’re OK. Chessy, you’re OK.'”
Prout credited her family with helping her get through the ordeal.
“I can’t image how scary it is for other people to have to do this alone,” she said. “I don’t want anybody else to be alone anymore.”
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