Before graduation ceremonies for her older sister at St. Paul’s School, then 15-year old Chessy Prout was sexually assaulted by another senior, Owen Labrie, who her sister had dated. They were the only two witnesses to the event. I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope is her earnest, comprehensive and in the end, mature account of the events which wound up in convictions on multiple accounts for Labrie.
Perhaps the most telling part of the book was the willingness to share her seemingly accommodating, even friendly, messages after the incident. The instinctive drive to placate, to settle and avoid, is natural and profoundly sad. These are of course used by the defense lawyers, and her account of seeing them in the trial itself makes me cringe despite knowing no parties and it being years away.
Her loving grandmother’s view is ultimately that Labrie should be pitied. Reading between and outside the lines such as this Vanity Fair piece there is obviously a deep sadness in him, which metastasized into leadership of a gang of sexual predators. They had a vicious “senior salute” ritual of chasing freshmen girls in the final weeks of school. Did this scholarship boy, the winner at graduation of the Rector’s Award (since rescinded), conform to a culture or help make it? Would he have carved the same path at another school?
The rot of “hook up” culture is something that found apparently a deeply fertile ground at St. Paul’s – entitled, often wealthy boys with a high degree of freedom and strong wish to belong. How does Labrie never express the most elemental contrition? Other SPS grads I know are pretty befuddled when this incident is raised. St. Paul’s in their day had a culture of drugs and irresponsibility at times maybe…but tolerance of group-planned sexual assaults? That seems alien to them — including Pratt’s father, an alum himself. How many years did it go on? Many other SPS families apparently rallied to Labrie’s cause – scorning her and raising money for him! With the vat of available evidence outside any he-said/she-said framework, it is completely incomprehensible.
Why did the school, for all the high-sounding mottos they embrace, not ever effectively act in loco parentis? What did they do afterwards, in the wake of the family’s civil suit against St. Paul’s? Prout’s first person account doesn’t go into that but it doesn’t make the status quo of a mere half-decade ago any less chilling. Could a single boarding school singularly stand athwart sexually permissive history, yelling stop? A new school head will try, but against what tsunami of other cultural messages the kids have digested if not since birth, then since puberty?
She comes from a wealthy and connected background, with a supportive family and at least at points supportive friends. (Their family is capable of paying for the best lawyers, and paid outside consultants a quarter million dollars to help remove trolling websites about her from search engines.) The difficulties she faces surrounding the pursuit of justice get a network which the vast majority of sexual assault victims must not have access to. How could they realistically ever pursue justice?