St. Paul's School says lawsuit settled in sex assault case
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The elite St. Paul's School has settled a lawsuit accusing it of failing to protect a girl who was sexually assaulted by a fellow student as part of a conquest ritual.
The terms of the settlement are confidential, but Chessy Prout, now 19, said Friday that what began as an effort to speak up for herself in her case against Owen Labrie has grown into "standing up against a 162-year-old institution with a secret history of rape and cover-up."
"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," Prout said in a statement.
The prep academy has denied that it could have prevented the assault and that the school had a culture of sexual assault, but it said the case has led to positive changes on campus. In a letter to the St. Paul's community on Friday, 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."
Prout also praised Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, who in July launched a criminal investigation into the school, sparked by her case, as well as allegations included in an independent review requested by St. Paul's.
That review found credible sexual misconduct allegations against 18 former faculty and staff members, along with evidence the school failed to protect students at the time or fully investigate their complaints when asked years later.
Prout called the criminal investigation 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."
Cox said the school is cooperating fully with that probe.
"Despite the difficulties presented by legal issues and their portrayal in the media, the school continues to thrive," he wrote.
The Associated Press typically doesn't identify victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, as Prout has done.
An advocate for sexual assault survivors said she was pleased for Prout that there has been closure in the 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, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said in a statement. "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 was a 15-year-old freshman at St. Paul's in 2014 when she accused Labrie of assaulting her as part of a "Senior Salute" competition among upperclassman seeking to have sex with younger students. Her parents sued in 2016, shortly after Labrie was convicted of sexual assault, child endangerment and using a computer to lure the girl for sex, and a settlement was finalized this week.
Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vt., was sentenced to a year in jail but remains free pending appeals.
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