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At Concord sexual assault panel, advocates tout communication and prevention

  • U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster thanks Chessy Prout for speaking out during "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH," a panel discussion at University of New Hampshire Law School, in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. Prout and Kuster were among the panelists. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster speaks during a panel titled "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH" at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Panelists clap with the audience for Chessy Prout (second from left) near the end of a panel discussion titled "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH" at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster speaks during a panel titled "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH" at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Chessy Prout receives a hug from Tiffany Marteau (facing forward) following a panel titled "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH" at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Allison Power-Bernal speaks during a panel titled "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH" at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Chessy Prout (second from left) speaks during a panel titled "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH" at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Lyn Schollett speaks during a panel titled "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH" at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Peggy O'Neil (second from right) speaks during a panel titled "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH" at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Forrest Seymour speaks during a panel titled "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH" at the University of New Hampshire Law School in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Statistics on sexual violence are overwhelming, with one in four women reporting they’ve experienced it; one in 20 men have reported the same thing.

But the vast majority of assaults go unreported. On college campuses across the country, 90 percent of sexual assault victims don’t report, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

It’s a standard U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster has taken a strong stance against over the past year. Kuster has been public about her own experiences with sexual assault, which date back to her time as a student at Dartmouth College, an institution she called out at a panel discussion on sexual assault Wednesday night.

“There’s a problem on that campus,” Kuster said. “As an alumna, I’ve spoken up. If someone was being physically harmed, beat up at an institution you were paying $60,000 a year for, you wouldn’t put up with that; no one would expect you to.”

While awareness in advocacy is growing, sexual assault and domestic violence experts say there is still a lot of change that needs to happen within institutions, including high schools and colleges, sports teams and the military.

Sometimes, a culture change can start with simply asking a question, said survivor Chessy Prout, who was sexually assaulted while attending St. Paul’s School in Concord.

Prout recalled she was a shy student in school, always nervous to ask questions in her classes. But after her assault and the long trial that followed, Prout said she learned that she and other survivors should never be afraid to ask questions and speak out.

“Don’t accept the status quo,” Prout said. “I did that for too long at St. Paul’s School.”

Not anymore.

“Some things, I just won’t accept them anymore,” Prout said. “I’m tired of being silenced and ashamed.”

Kuster, Prout and New Hampshire advocates spoke at length about legislation and other steps being taken to make it easier to report and prosecute sexual assaults and to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Last year, Congress passed the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, which then-President Barack Obama signed into law. The legislation established statutory rights in federal law for survivors of sexual assault and rape and changed the way rape kits are processed, protecting them from being destroyed early.

Kuster and three other lawmakers recently announced the creation of a bipartisan task force to end sexual violence, and the congresswoman said they planned to focus on prevention and education initiatives, the rape kit backlog, ending sexual assault in the military, and training for law enforcement.

“I can’t imagine any other crime in our culture that we would have the evidence and choose to not process the evidence,” Kuster said.

Advocates say sexual assault awareness and prevention needs to be implemented for all age groups, beginning in elementary school with age-appropriate lessons about boundaries and continuing into high school and college with in-depth discussions about consent.

“We really have a chance with prevention,” said panelist Allison Power-Bernal, the prevention coordinator for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “If those skills are embedded in the culture with 6-year-olds, that’s going to be the bedrock.”

Many colleges across New Hampshire hold a sexual assault awareness and prevention training for their incoming freshmen.

At Keene State College, this includes student actors performing skits that show different scenarios of sexual violence. Each skit includes a bystander who either intervenes or does nothing, said panelist Forrest Seymour, coordinator of sexual violence prevention at the college.

“They either do the right thing, or they don’t do the right thing,” Seymour said. “It’s very visceral. I think what makes that powerful is it’s students acting on stage.”

Ultimately, communication is key, advocates said. For Prout, people wanting to hear her story and share their own has been life-changing.

“People wanting to listen to me has been incredible,” Prout said. “Speaking out has helped me heal so much.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@ella_nilsen.)