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‘I felt that it was my fault’: A rape survivor shares her story of speaking out

The allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have compelled people to share their own experiences with sexual assault and why they didn't come forward. When Chessy Prout was a freshman in high school, she was raped by a classmate. She spoke to authorities, brought charges and suffered a backlash. The author of “I Have the Right To,” Prout joins Amna Nawaz to discuss the shame she experienced.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    We want to take a step back now from the specifics of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh and look at what we know about how survivors of sexual assault cope with the trauma.

    President Trump's tweet questioning Christine Blasey Ford's claims because if it was — quote — "as bad as she says," she would have reported it at the time set off alarms for survivors and their advocates.

    Thousands of people share their own experiences on Twitter using the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport.

    We begin with one woman's story.

    Chessy Prout was a freshman in high school when she reported being raped by an older classmate. She spoke to authorities, brought charges, and suffered a backlash. The case drew national attention. She went on to write a memoir about her experience and started a support network for survivors and their families.

    She joins me now.

    Chessy Prout, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thanks for being with us.

    I want to ask you about your decision to write about your story in the first place. It must have been incredibly difficult to relive some of those moments. Why did you do it?

  • Chessy Prout:

    Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me here today.

    Telling your story can be really difficult in the first place. Even writing it down, acknowledging that you lost control, that somebody took advantage of you in a really personal and hurtful way, it can be hard to even admit to yourself.

    But following — in the days following my assault, I just couldn't keep it in any longer. I knew that something really, really wrong had happened to me, and I needed to get it out.

    And so I told my mom, and then my mom told my counselor, and my counselor was mandated to report it to the police. And so, in writing my memoir, "I Have the Right To," I really wanted to show what was going on inside my mind, inside my brain as a sexual assault survivor.

    Too often, people don't focus on the after effects of a sexual assault on the survivor, and how much it really takes from a survivor to survive, and then keep on living life and to keep on pursuing justice in the aftermath.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You wrote about this moment in the book, immediately after your assault.

    And I wonder if you could kind of elaborate on it a little bit. You said some of the first couple of things you felt were shame and humiliation. Those were the first two things or among the first two things. Why do you think that's what you felt?

  • Chessy Prout:

    Shame and guilt are really common responses to a sexual assault.

    I mean, I didn't want to admit to myself that I had lost control of my body, that I froze. And, after my assault, I was immediately greeted by friends from the stairwell when I was leaving the mechanical room. And that kind of put — shocked me into this mind-set that I had to pretend everything was OK.

    It was graduation weekend for my older sister. And I didn't want to make a big deal about my — what had happened to me. I didn't want to make the weekend about me, because it was a weekend about my sister, and my family was there. And so I felt that I had to keep this to myself. And I felt that it was my fault.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned your mother was the first person you decided to say something to. We hear a lot about people's decisions of why they do and don't report similar kinds of situations.

    What was that decision-making process like for you? How did you weigh whether or not to say anything?

  • Chessy Prout:

    Well, at first, I did tell a couple of close girlfriends at my — in my dorm. And then I told — hypothetically — I told the situation hypothetically to an adviser in my dorm when she heard me having a panic attack next door.

    And she was the one who told me that I should call my mother. I mean, my mom and dad had always been open with me and my younger sister and my older sister about anything, that we can come to them with anything. But we had never had a specific talk about consent or healthy relationships in that sense.

    And so I had a healthy and trusting relationship with my mom. And I was able to talk to her about it because of that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As word spread that you had made this allegation, you went to a small school, right? It's fair to call it an elite institution up in New Hampshire.

    What was the reaction like among the rest of the school and the rest of the community?

  • Chessy Prout:

    I mean, immediately after the assault, when I told my close friends, they were all extremely concerned for my well-being. They noticed that something was wrong.

    But in the months after, when I went home for the summer and talked to the police and the case kind of move forward into something like a criminal case, something very serious, I think the community took a step back and wanted to support my perpetrator, instead of me, because it's so much easier to believe that a young woman is capable of lying than it is to believe that a young man who is held at such a high standard is capable of something so horrific and disgusting.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What was that like for you to get that kind of reaction?

  • Chessy Prout:

    It was incredibly painful and hurtful and really confusing for me, because I constantly wondered, this is not right. I am a victim of a crime. And yet nobody seems to see it that way.

    I mean, the fact that alumni and students and parents at the school decided to raise or chose to raise $100,000 for my perpetrator's defense fund, I mean, that showed a lot how the St. Paul's community reacted to my sexual assault.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The case that you mentioned there, as it moved forward, it got a lot of national attention. But this all sort of happened before what we're now calling the MeToo movement began.

    I'm curious if you think that, having watched the news unfold over the last year or so, do you think it's any easier for people now to come forward as you did?

  • Chessy Prout:

    I think the MeToo movement kind of makes it easier for certain groups of people to come forward and disclose their stories.

    It only makes it easier for a certain cultural group. We have seen this blow up in Hollywood, and lots of people of privilege being able to share their stories.

    But the MeToo movement hasn't gotten to a lot of different communities who have many cultural barriers to reporting a sexual assault.

    Just last — in the last couple of months, I was speaking to just some students from a public school in Washington, D.C., and we asked them, how has the MeToo movement changed the way that you and your friends talk about these issues? And they said, we don't talk about the MeToo movement. That's not applicable to us.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Chessy, I want to you, because your attacker was eventually acquitted of felony rape, convicted on three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault, with the trial behind you, with those convictions behind you, do you have any sense of closure?

  • Chessy Prout:

    That is a tough question.

    I mean, I feel as though I did all I could and what I could to help myself seek justice, and that I had the support network. I had a supportive detective. I had a supportive prosecuting attorney and family who helped me find and seek justice in that way.

    I mean, I did what I could, and I feel a little bit safer for it, knowing that I used my voice and my privilege to use my voice to help make sure that he never does this again.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Chessy Prout, thanks for sharing your story with us.

  • Chessy Prout:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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