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St. Paul’s School, Family of Chessy Prout Reach Settlement

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    Chessy Prout attends the reception for "Voices for Change: A Conversation about ending sexual violence in NH," a panel discussion at University of New Hampshire Law School, in Concord on Monday, April 17, 2017. Prout and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster were among the panelists. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Concord Monitor file photograph

  • FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2015, file photo, St. Paul's School graduate Owen Labrie raises his hand to be sworn-in prior to testifying in his trial at Merrimack Superior Court in Concord, N.H. The New Hampshire Supreme Court says it will hear an appeal for a new trial from a prep school graduate who was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting a classmate. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, Pool, File) Charles Krupa

Concord Monitor
Published: 1/19/2018 9:53:02 AM
Modified: 1/20/2018 12:31:47 AM

St. Paul’s School and the family of sexual assault survivor Chessy Prout have reached a confidential settlement that resolves a 2016 civil lawsuit filed against the school in federal court.

The case in U.S. District Court in Concord will be dismissed as a result of the agreement, which was announced publicly on Friday.

In a statement, Prout said she never imagined her life would be so “traumatically transformed into that of a sexual assault survivor as a high school freshman.”

She said what started as her speaking out publicly about her own sexual assault turned into something far more, as she stood up against an institution’s long-standing history of sexual misconduct and its past efforts to conceal that abuse.

“It is a role no teenaged survivor should be in but one I knew I had to accept,” she said.

Prout said she hopes the settlement will not silence important discussions about how the school can work to improve its response to sexual abuse on campus and ensure future students’ safety.

“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,” she said.​​​​​​

In a letter to the school community, Archibald Cox Jr., the president of St. Paul’s board of trustees, said the confidential agreement is “a welcomed outcome as the litigation is costly and disruptive for the school.”

Alex and Susan Prout filed the civil lawsuit on behalf of their daughter in mid-2016 following Tunbridge resident Owen Labrie’s conviction on statutory rape and other charges.

The Prouts argued that St. Paul’s had failed to “meet its most basic obligation to protect the children entrusted to its care,” and that school administrators knew about the now-infamous “Senior Salute,” in which upperclassmen solicit intimate encounters from younger pupils, and did nothing to curtail it.

The school claimed no liability as part of the settlement, but said since the sexual assault in 2014 it has reassessed its educational programming and looked for opportunities to improve its culture.

“Yes, this causes the school to assess and reassess, but that’s something the school is always doing,” Cox said in a phone interview. “This specific event was very unfortunate, and it’s the kind of event that — whomever was to blame and however it happened — was a terrible thing for the people involved and a terrible thing for the school.”

The Prouts filed their lawsuit against St. Paul’s several months after a Merrimack County jury’s guilty verdicts against Labrie. Prout shed her anonymity in August 2016, after St. Paul’s objected to her family’s use of pseudonyms in the civil lawsuit.

Labrie was convicted of statutory rape, endangering the welfare of a child and using a computer to solicit sex.

The computer charge is a felony and requires Labrie to register as a sex offender for life. Labrie is out of jail on bail conditions pending the resolution of his two appeals, which currently are currently before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

In March, Prout is scheduled to publish a book about her experiences at St. Paul’s and her advocacy work. Prout worked on the book, titled I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope, with Jenn Abelson, a member of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team.

Cox wrote in his letter on Friday that St. Paul’s is aware of the book’s upcoming release and understands it “will likely generate additional publicity.”

“We continue to admire Ms. Prout’s courage and commend her efforts surrounding sexual assault prevention,” he said.

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