Prestigious Academy Accused of Having Culture of Sexual Assault
A prestigious prep academy, St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit. The claimant, Chessy Prout, now 19 and 15 at the time of the incident, alleged that the school failed to protect her from being sexually assaulted by fellow student, Owen Labrie. Prout has indicated that she has taken her rights back by “standing up against a 162-year-old institution with a secret history of rape and cover-up.” While her parents originally filed the lawsuit, the girl chose to reveal her identity in August 2016.
Prout said, “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; my hope is that the settlement motivates everyone involved with the institution to create a culture where student well-being comes first.”
The academy has denied that it could have prevented the assault, and also denies her allegations that the school has a culture of sexual assault. However, the institution did indicate that the student’s case has made for some positive changes on campus. The president of the school’s board of trustees, Archibald Cox, called the settlement a “welcomed outcome as the litigation is costly and disruptive for the school.”
General Gordon MacDonald started a criminal investigation in July of last year, which takes a closer look into the academy. (Cox said the school is cooperating fully.) The investigation was inspired by MacDonald’s case in addition to allegations included in an independent review requested by St. Paul’s.
MacDonald’s review found sexual misconduct allegations against eighteen former faculty and staff members, along with evidence the school failed to its protect students. Prout said the attorney’s investigation is the first step in allowing her to move “from the unenviable role of holding an institution accountable to that of an advocate committed to helping others.”
“Despite the difficulties presented by legal issues and their portrayal in the media, the school continues to thrive,” Cox wrote. He added, “We continue to admire Ms. Prout’s courage and commend her efforts surrounding sexual assault prevention.”
An advocate for assault victims said she was pleased there has been closure in Prout’s civil case. “Now is the time for St. Paul’s to partner with local experts to provide faculty and staff with the tools they need to prevent unhealthy relationships and violence,” Amanda Grady Sexton, New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence spokesperson, said. “Every student deserves to learn in a safe and supportive environment and we hope that the steps the school is taking will lead to a positive shift in campus culture.”
Prout accused Labrie of assaulting her as part of a “Senior Salute” competition among upperclassman seeking to have sex with younger students. Her parents filed the case in 2016, shortly after Labrie was convicted of sexual assault, child endangerment, and using a computer to lure the girl for sex. Labrie was sentenced to a year in jail, but remains outside of lockup pending appeals.