Prestigious and storied St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, became enmeshed in controversy last year when a rape trial made national news.
19-year-old Owen Labrie stood accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old female student.
Only days away from graduation, Labrie invited the girl to join him in a “Senior Salute.” It’s been a “tradition” at St. Paul’s for many years, in which seniors try to have sex with younger female students before graduating.
The girl was initially reluctant, but eventually agreed. Labrie took her to a maintenance room on campus, where the alleged assault occurred.
Labrie insisted that he couldn’t have raped her, because intercourse didn’t take place.
Still, the girl faced Labrie bravely in the courtroom and gave her testimony.
Labrie was eventually acquitted of three counts of felony sexual assault, and convicted on three misdemeanor charges. He’s now appealing those convictions.
But until now, the identity of the girl has been a closely guarded secret.
This week, Chessy Prout finally spoke publicly about the case.
Speaking with Today’s Savannah Guthrie on Tuesday morning, the now 17-year-old explains how it felt that Labrie was let off so lightly:
“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. 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.”
Following Labrie’s acquittal, Prout’s family filed a lawsuit against St. Paul’s, charging that school administrators had failed to properly protect students from sexual assault.
The school, in turn, threatened to force Prout to reveal herself publicly, saying that the family was destroying the esteemed reputation of the school “from behind a cloak of anonymity.”
That’s when Chessy Prout made the decision to reveal her identity—in part as a show of solidarity to other victims of sexual assault:
“I want everyone to know that I am not afraid or ashamed anymore, and I never should have been. 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.”
Prout was on the witness stand for three full days during last year’s trial. She says it was challenging, but had to be done:
“It was something that was necessary. Although it was scary and although it was pretty difficult, I wouldn’t be where I am today without having been able to speak up for myself.”
Nevertheless, Prout said that the defense attorney’s interrogation of her was traumatizing:
“A question I was asked on the stand was ‘Well, why were you so hazy during that period?’ I looked at the defense attorney in disbelief and said, ‘I was raped.’ I was just trying to go smoothly and not cause any waves.”
As difficult as the experience of the trial was, Prout says she and her family eventually decided that the matter couldn’t just quietly be put to bed:
“We had been prepared to just receive an apology letter. We had been prepared to finish this and just move forward with our lives and let them move forward with their lives. But, you know what, in the pursuit of justice, I would’ve done anything.”
After the trial, Prout tried to return to St. Paul, but there was no going back to how things were before the assault:
“None of my old friends that were boys would talk to me — they didn’t even look me in the eyes. And nobody was talking about the issue itself. They weren’t trying to prevent it from happening to anyone else.”
Meanwhile, Labrie was sentenced with a year in jail on the three misdemeanors.
He was free at first while his attorney sought an appeal. But in March it was discovered he’d broken parole, and he was taken into custody to start his sentence at Merrimack County House of Corrections in New Hampshire. He is currently registered as a sex offender in that state.
Despite what happened to her, Prout isn’t seeking personal vengeance, and hopes that Labrie can turn his life around, too:
“I hope he gets help. And that’s all I can ever hope for in any sort of process like this. Because if he doesn’t learn, he will do it to another young woman.”
Prout has started working with the Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE) organization, whose mission is to “both to shatter the silence and prevent sexual violence through social advocacy, education and survivor support.”
PAVE has launched a website called I Have the Right To in response to Prout’s interview.