St. Paul's Settles Lawsuit Over School's Failure To Protect Sexual Assault Victim

Jan 19, 2018

Credit File photo

St. Paul’s School in Concord is settling a civil lawsuit brought by the family of a former student, Chessy Prout, who was a 15-year-old freshman at the elite boarding school when she accused then senior Owen Labrie of sexually assaulting her.

Prout’s parents sued St. Paul’s in 2016, arguing the school should have done more to protect their daughter. On Friday morning, the elite boarding school announced they resolved the dispute with the Prouts and the case had been dismissed.

Both sides said they can’t discuss the terms of the settlement.

In a statement, Chessy Prout said she hopes the settlement “motivates everyone involved with the institution to create a culture where student well-being comes first.” Prout referred to St Paul’s as an institution with a “secret history of rape and cover-up.”

“It will be tragic if the leadership and faculty of St. Paul’s views this settlement as a legal tactic to put its shameful track-record in the past without acknowledging its present issues,” Prout wrote.

St. Paul’s school was the first to announce the news of the settlement Friday. An attorney for the Prouts later said terms had been reached in December, with the official details finalized in January. In a letter to the greater St. Paul’s community, President of the Board of Trustees Archibald Cox called the news a “welcome outcome as litigation is costly and disruptive for the School.”

St. Paul’s has been in and out of the news lately for a number of sexual misconduct related issues. Labrie’s sexual assault trial made national headlines, and so did a campus culture of sexual rituals lead by upperclassmen. Labrie is now appealing his conviction.

Chessy Prout sits for an interview on NBC's "Today Show" in 2016, where she made her first public comments about being sexually assaulted at St. Paul's school by then-senior, Owen Labrie.
Credit NBC/Today Show

Most recently, St. Paul’s has been grappling with reports from an independent investigation of decades of incidents of sexual abuse by teachers.

Last summer, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office launched a criminal investigation into St. Paul’s handling of past allegations of sexual misconduct. A spokesman said Friday the investigation remains “active and ongoing.”

St. Paul’s also announced earlier this month that its Rector, Michael Hirschfeld, would be resigning at the end of next school year. Cox said his leaving had nothing to do with the settlement, and the board would have been happy to keep him at St. Paul’s.

Prout has also been involved as an advocate for sexual assault victims. She has written a book about the assault and her experience called “I Have The Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice and Hope" which is due out in March. Prout made her first public comments in 2016 in an interview with NBC's "Today" show.

In his letter, Board President Cox said St. Paul’s admires “Ms. Prout’s courage and commend her efforts surrounding sexual assault prevention."

All of this tough news seems to have had little to no effect on the boarding school’s enrollment or interest in their prestigious summer program for New Hampshire high school juniors. St. Paul’s administrators said their numbers for the boarding school side have stayed the same, and guidance counselors around the state have told NHPR that the sexual misconduct news has not deterred students from applying to the Advanced Studies Program.