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St. Paul's School, sex assault victim reach confidential settlement

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 19. 2018 12:35PM
The student-victim at the center of the Owen Labrie sexual assault trial has reached a confidential settlement with St. Paul's School, ending a lawsuit her parents filed against the preparatory school. (UNION LEADER FILE)

Chessy Prout

CONCORD — St. Paul’s School has reached a confidential settlement with the family of the student-victim at the center of the Owen Labrie sexual assault trial, ending a civil suit that had provided further embarrassment to the prestigious preparatory school.

In a letter dated Friday, the school announced the settlement with the family of Chessy Prout, who was 15 when she said that Labrie sexually assaulted her as part of a secret school ritual termed “Senior Salute.”

A Merrimack County jury cleared then-St. Paul’s senior Labrie of raping Prout, a freshman, but convicted him of lesser charges. The state Supreme Court is considering Labrie’s request for a new trial.

In a statement, Prout said she never imagined her life would be traumatically transformed into that of a sexual-assault survivor when she enrolled at St. Paul’s.

“What started as me speaking up for myself turned into something bigger: standing up against a 162-year institution with a secret history of rape and cover-up. It is a role no teen-aged survivor should be in but one I knew I had to accept,” she wrote.

In a letter to the St. Paul’s School community, Trustee President Archibald Cox Jr. called the settlement welcome because the litigation was costly and disruptive for the school.

He noted that an investigation by the New Hampshire attorney general remains ongoing and he pointed out that the settlement does not restrict either party from talking about the case.

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

Owen Labrie looks back at his family during a break of the first day of the Evidentiary Hearing for a possible new trial at Merrimack County Court House in Feb. 2017. (Pool photo/Geoff Forester, Concord Monitor)

Cox said there is no connection to the settlement and a recent announcement that Mike Hirschfeld will retire as the head of school at the end of the 2019 academic year.

“Despite the difficulties presented by legal issues and their portrayal in the media, the School continues to thrive and remains at the forefront of residential secondary education — and we’re always working to improve,” Cox wrote.

Prout travels around the country to speak to school children about issues regarding consent and to encourage survivors of sexual assault. Prout has a book coming out in March.

In her statement, she expressed gratitude to Attorney General Gordon MacDonald for launching an investigation into what she called the “rape culture at St. Paul’s School.”

“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,” she wrote.

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