Three years ago, Chessy Prout made headlines as an anonymous victim in a sexual assault trial that gripped the country.
She was a 15-year-old freshman at St. Paul’s School, an elite prep school in Concord, New Hampshire, when a senior student assaulted her in an isolated mechanical room on campus in 2014.
“He blindsided me and started to kiss me,” Chessy, now 19, says. “I was fine with that. But then things started to get not fine. I said, ‘No, no, no’ . . . but he ignored everything and just kept going. When somebody takes over your body and you don’t want it, it’s pretty scary.”
The case drew national attention when it was revealed during the highly publicized trial that Chessy had been the victim of a competition among senior boys known as “the senior salute.”
“The senior salute was a way for senior upperclassmen to go after their black horses,” she says, “to see how many girls they could score or slay, as they put it, and they made a big long list of a bunch of girls names.”
Chessy’s name was near the top of the list. After the August 2015 trial, her perpetrator was found guilty of several charges — including three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault involving a minor — and later sentenced to a year in jail and lifetime registration as a sex offender. (He has appealed his convictions to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and, according to a lawyer, “remains hopeful his appeals will be successful.”)
In its statement, St. Paul’s School says in part, “We are cooperating fully with the Attorney General. Protecting student well-being is our highest priority, and we have zero tolerance for faculty who endanger students. . . . The school has no tradition or culture that would ever allow or condone what happened to Chessy. We teach students about sexual-assault prevention and have worked hard to improve this training over the last few years. We are un- aware of any student who shared Chessy’s experience with the senior salute, and if any student did, we hope they feel comfortable sharing that with us.”
Prout has moved forward from the trauma by helping others. As a new, bold voice and teen activist for other young women, she’s an ambassador with PAVE (Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment) and launched the #IHaveTheRightTo initiative last year—a social media campaign to empower sexual assault survivors to speak out and “change the shame around sexual assault and rape and put it back where it belongs — on the perpetrators.”
She spent the last year speaking on panels and at workshops all over the country—including at Yale Law School and at the U.S. Capitol soft launch of the Bi-Partisan Taskforce to End Sexual Violence in Washington, D.C.—to share what she’d learned during her ordeal.
Watch Chessy Prout on the series People Features: Women Speak Out, available now, on PeopleTV. Go to people.com/peopletv, or download the app on your favorite device.
In the process, she found healing for herself, too. “I was no longer a victim telling her story,” she says, “but a survivor and advocate ready to help teach my peers about healthy relationships and what consent means. My goal is to help survivors realize there’s a whole family of people out here ready to give them support.”
With her new memoir, I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, Chessy hopes to inspire other women to speak out about their experiences.
“For as many women who feel like they can and are empowered enough to speak out and name what’s happened to them, I think that is what we need to change the culture,” says Prout, who will be starting college at Barnard in New York in September.
“I know that this change doesn’t happen, cannot happen, overnight, but with the continuous support of powerful women, powerful men who speak out and say, “This happened to me. This isn’t right,” that can lend itself to a cultural change.”
She’s already seeing the change happen, she says—even among young men.
After an intense panel discussion last October at a D.C. high school, a student approached Chessy and thanked her.
“My mother used your story in the news to talk to me and my brother about consent and sexual assault,” she said. The teen’s brother had been developing a misogynistic attitude, but “after she talked to us about you, we saw a change in my brother.”
At that, Chessy burst into tears. “The weight of the day fell off of my shoulders,” she says. She thanked the girl in return. “This is exactly why I came forward.”