CHESSY SPEAKS OUT AND BRINGS #METOO TO ASIA...
High school sexual assault survivor speaks out, reclaiming her narrative for young women everywhere
Student advocate Chessy Prout recalls growing up in Asia, her legal battle for justice and why she decided to tell her own story.
Alex Prout, 54, had gone to St Paul’s in 1979 on a scholarship. He had loved it so much that when he went back for his 10-year reunion, he had taken Susan along to show her the beauties of its 800-hectare campus. They had just become engaged, having met on a flight between Tokyo and New York, and hoped to have children. “Do you think we could send our kids here?” he had asked her.
His fiancée, who didn’t have a prep-school background and was inclined to believe that boarding schools were a form of punishment, replied, “Maybe.”
You may imagine, therefore, Alex Prout’s delight when Lucy and Chessy were accepted by the school, whose prestigious alumni list includes former US secretary of state John Kerry and FBI director Robert Mueller. Later in the spring of 2014, Lucy, the elder sister, would leave St Paul’s and go to college. It was her transition from a beloved haven into an unsafe world that was on her father’s mind as he read a New York Times article about the rate of sexual assault on American university campuses. Prout turned to a colleague in the Hong Kong office and said, “I have three daughters. Statistically, this is going to happen to our family.”
As he spoke, Lucy was his concern, but when the phone call came, a few months later, it was Chessy, aged 15, who had become a statistic.
On the night of May 30, 2014, Chessy had been asked by a senior pupil, Owen Labrie, then 18, to climb a hidden staircase to the roof – he had “a secret key” – and admire the stars from the best viewpoint on campus. She knew it was a “Senior Salute” invitation, when some senior boys at St Paul’s tried to proposition younger girls before graduation. She had refused. Lucy had, briefly, dated Labrie and told her sister to stay clear of him.
A male friend eventually persuaded her to go (“Owen’s not going to pressure you or do anything to hurt you”). And it was true that Chessy did not mind kissing him: Labrie was cute, destined for Harvard University, captain of the soccer team. But the evening went beyond kissing.
In the subsequent, much-publicised court case, Labrie was cleared of felony rape charges but found guilty of three counts of misdemeanour sexual assault for penetrating a minor with his penis, finger and mouth. The jury of nine men and three women, which deliberated for almost seven hours over two days, also found him guilty of using a computer “to seduce, lure, or entice a female child under the age of sixteen [...] to commit an offence of sexual assault”. He was sentenced to a year in prison, for the sexual assault offences, and to register as a sex offender for the computer felony. He is currently appealing. (Harvard withdrew its offer of a place.)
But this was just the beginning in a story that continues to evolve in a multitude of ways...