Story of the Year No. 5: Chessy Prout sheds anonymity in St. Paul’s rape case

  • Chessy Prout

  • Owen Labrie continued to make headlines in 2016, but it was Chessy Prout’s appearance on the “Today” show that made the story her own. NBC News

Monitor staff
Published: 12/28/2016 6:01:44 PM

The former St. Paul’s freshman, who the public had come to know only as Owen Labrie’s victim, shed her anonymity in summer 2016 to tell her story as a survivor.

Chessy Prout, 17, appeared on the Today show, hoping that by coming forward, she could empower other survivors to stand up and not feel ashamed. On the show, she openly answered questions for the first time about the two-year ordeal that carried national headlines.

And for maybe the first time since summer 2014, the headlines from that day weren’t about Labrie, his high-profile trial, his sentence or attempts to get his conviction overturned. Victims advocates, political leaders and community members shifted the discussion by commending a young survivor for her bravery and resilience.

The same day Prout appeared with her parents and sister on Today, she launched an online social media campaign under the hashtag #IHaveTheRightTo, which continues to get traction on Twitter. The nonprofit organization Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment worked with Prout to build a website dedicated to her cause.

Prout is working with the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence to plan an event for early next year in hopes of increasing public awareness about sexual assault on prep school and college campuses.

Prout’s decision to reveal her identity came less than a month after St. Paul’s objected to her family’s use of pseudonyms in a civil lawsuit. The school called for Prout and her parents to be named if the case they brought against the school reached trial in U.S. District Court in Concord. The earliest that could happen is March 2018.

Her parents first filed the lawsuit in June 2016 under the names John and Jane Doe. However, just hours before the family’s Today show appearance, an amended complaint with the parents’ real names, Alex and Susan Prout, was filed.

In the lawsuit, the Prouts maintain their daughter was the victim of a tradition known as the “senior salute,” in which upperclassmen seek intimate encounters with younger schoolmates.

St. Paul’s School has denied any liability, saying it could not have prevented the sexual assault by Labrie.

Labrie, now 21, of Tunbridge, Vt., was convicted in 2015 of statutory rape, endangering the welfare of a child and using a computer to lure Prout into the sexual encounter, a felony that carried a punishment of lifetime registration as a sex offender. Labrie has appealed his convictions and separately petitioned for a new trial, claiming ineffective counsel.

Despite receiving a one-year jail sentence, Labrie remained free on bail conditions pending the appeals. That is until March, when his case took an unexpected turn that landed the former prep school student behind bars for two months.

Labrie had his bail conditions revoked after admitting to violating a court-imposed curfew. Prosecutors said he traveled repeatedly to Boston to see a girlfriend; he said he made the trips to meet with attorneys and pursue higher education.

Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler ultimately reinstated Labrie’s bail in May, but ordered that he wear an electronic tracking device as an added restriction. Two days earlier, the state Supreme Court had ordered Smukler to reconsider the issue, given that Labrie had served a large portion of his one-year sentence and would likely serve the rest before the justices could hear his direct appeal.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)

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