Chessy Prout has released a new memoir in which she talks about her time at St. Paul’s School in Concord, where she was sexually assaulted as a freshman.
In the book, I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, she provides an unfiltered look into her assault and her decision to go public as a survivor. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley talked with Prout about activism and her new book.
(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)
Chessy, I want to ask you what made you want to write your story and why release the book? I imagine this must have been a very long and hard process.
It definitely was. But I feel like with the support that I was able to get from my family and the community that I moved back to after my assault, in Florida, I felt like I had almost the responsibility to keep on fighting for justice, and I really wanted to show the humanity behind the word victim or survivor. Because too often our perpetrators are given these long descriptions of all the things that they've had to lose because of the crime they committed, but nobody really takes into account what the victims or survivors have to lose and the trauma that we're going have to deal with for the rest of our lives.
Can you tell us about some of your experience since you have gone public with this story?
Well, right before I did my first ever interview to shed my anonymity on the Today show, a good friend of mine, Delaney Henderson, told me that for every one negative comment there was, there would be 20 or 30 positive comments to match it. And at first I didn't believe her, but that's the way it's been and I'm so grateful for that. The response from family and friends was astounding. And the way that my friends were understanding and wanted to help and talk with me about this, and who were excited when they heard that other schools were starting to approach this issue seriously, was really heartening to see. And it's always really nice to connect with other survivors and talk to them, listen to them, just sympathize with them, because I mean we are a community, a large community.
And you've been very active as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault since going public in 2016. What message is most important for you as an advocate to get out?
Well, I feel like just the baseline, when a survivor discloses to you, just believe them. Sympathize with them. Show empathy. Because it's shown that the first person that a survivor discloses to, their reaction can really help mold their healing process. And it's so important again, to put the power and control back in the survivors hands and let them seek justice in the ways that they want to. But I also wanted to show through writing my story in a book that we're so much more than just our assaults. These are only one little piece of our lives that may change the way we live our lives, but it's still only a little part of us and we've got so much more to us than just the one bad thing that happened to us.
Do you feel like there's been a real sea change in society in the past year, maybe year and a half, with the Me Too movement? Do you hear that there's just more empowerment?
Well I've been so encouraged that the Me Too movement has caught on in social media. Of course it began in 2000, or I think around 2005 by Tarana Burke. But I'm really, really thankful that it's began to catch fire on social media, because it's helping cultivate a culture and society where survivors feel comfortable coming forward. And that's what we really need to do to make this issue go away or to minimize it, to help survivors and to help put away perpetrators. We need to make a culture and society where survivors feel comfortable coming forward. And it's heartening to see that as well.
St. Paul's School has continued to be investigated for decades of sexual misconduct, in fact, and the mishandling of assault cases. What outcome do you wish to see from those investigations? What do you hope happens?
Well regardless of the outcome, there are students at the school that need to be protected. And again, I'm grateful for the attorney general of New Hampshire for continuing their investigation, because it was getting to be a lot to put on my shoulders, to keep on fighting them. And my family, they've definitely not treated us the way that they should have. And so I just hope that their culture changes and that their students can be safe on their campus.
You mentioned that one of the most important aspects you think of any advocacy that you can impart is for people to believe someone who comes forward. How can people be more supportive of survivors in their own lives?
I think one of the biggest things is that when you care about somebody you want to know what's best for them. And in the case of survivors of sexual assault, a lot of times other people don't know what's best for them. And so, just being a listening ear is something that can be so great for survivors, being there to listen to them, to sympathize with them, to show them love and compassion is all that they might need in the moment. And so, I think not minimizing a survivor's feelings and understanding the trauma and how it affects our minds after the fact would be a great beginning.
You're going to be at Gibson's bookstore in Concord on Sunday what can people expect from that event?
Well, my co-author Jenn Ableson and I will both be there. And at our bookstore events what we like to do is just talk about how we began the writing process. And I love to give sort of more light to my story by being there in person. So I hope people can come and learn maybe by listening to a survivor, or come to talk to me to understand my story.
What's next for you?
Well next year I'm going to be starting college. And so I'll be at Barnard College in New York. And I don't even know what I'm going to be studying yet, but I'm just excited to go off to school and to learn again.
In a statement, St. Paul's School said: "We fully support Chessy’s trailblazing work to give a voice to sexual assault victims. Chessy bravely stepped forward to address an issue important not just to schools, but to the entire country.
We’re proud of the culture we’ve built at our school and of our care for students. The school’s culture does not condone or tolerate what happened to Chessy. We teach students extensively about sexual assault prevention, and have strengthened our robust programs on health, wellbeing, and mutual respect.
We are dedicated to our mission of educating students in an environment that is safe and welcoming for everyone, and we are constantly working to improve it."