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How Families Can Support Sexual Assault Survivors

In 2014, Chessy Prout, a freshman at a prestigious boarding school, was sexually assaulted in a ritualized game of power. Chessy reported her assault to the police and testified against her attacker in court. Chessy’s memoir, I HAVE THE RIGHT TO, offers powerful and important solutions to defeat rape culture and describes how to find hope throughout an unspeakable trauma. Susan and Alex Prout, parents of Chessy, share some of the decisions they made after their daughter’s assault that they hope can help other families.

There is no road map for victims and families surviving sexual assault. And there is no one way to prepare for a traumatic life event or sexual assault, just as there is no way to prepare for the effects of a devastating earthquake or a life-threatening illness.

In the aftermath of our daughter Chessy’s assault, we made some good decisions with careful thought, and other actions we took were made by chance. We’d like to share them with you.

Find a Support Network

In the aftermath of trauma, it is critical to find people who will listen, love, and support you. The shame confronting many survivors is isolating, and can extend to the family of survivors, affecting every aspect of your lives, from where you live, work, and send your children to school, as you are trying to seek justice and healing. We will always be indebted to our family, old friends, several teachers, and other sexual assault survivors who became our new friends and perhaps most inspiring community. 

Understand the Criminal Justice System

Laws differ state by state in terms of how crimes are defined and what victims’ rights are. We immersed ourselves in New Hampshire laws surrounding sexual assault and the court process we would potentially face. So much depends on the attitudes of the police and district attorney in handling sexual assault cases. We didn’t know what the Concord authorities would make of Chessy’s case, and let them do their jobs but remained very engaged in the process, calling, e-mailing, and asking questions.

What We Wished We Knew

Looking back, we are painfully reminded of the questions we didn’t ask when we sent our daughters to St. Paul’s School, and the assumptions we made. We encourage parents and guardians to take the time to learn what lies beneath the veneer of any institution—whether it’s a boarding school, college, or summer program. Ask the questions we wish we had asked: What traditions does the school culture hold near and dear? How many sexual assaults are reported? What training is provided to administrators, teachers, and coaches? What support is available to victims?

Talk to Your Children

Parents must have conversations with boys and girls from a young age about what consent and healthy relationships mean. It’s not enough to wait for schools to take the lead. The conversation has to be shifted away from blaming the victim. Instead, we need to talk about changing the behaviors of the perpetrators. In particular, mothers and fathers need to talk to their sons about respect, entitlement, and consent.

Support Survivors

Be there, be present for the survivors in your life. The journey after sexual assault to survivorship is jagged, not linear. At this stage of our lives, we depend on love and faith to guide us and hold us together. And we continue to educate ourselves on how rape culture thrives and ways to combat it.

To Survivors: Know That You are Not Alone

To teens and survivors, we parents are often not perfect—but we can be a good place to start if something has happened to you. Communicating with a trusted teacher, an adult in your church or religious community, a mature friend, or older sibling can make all the difference. You are not alone, nor should you be. You deserve love, compassion, and support.

Gather Information

You deserve information on what your options are to move forward. Gather more information, not less. Call your local rape crisis center. Find out about the statute of limitations. In many places, you can get a rape kit test done now and decide later whether you want to pursue the case in criminal court.

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Every victim and circumstances are unique. Every family’s experience is unique. Everyone has a story, and they are all a little different—but this is what motivates us to shine a light, to recognize you are not alone in searching for your right to justice and healing.

Learn how to protect yourself with advice from law enforcement officer, Steve Kardian.

Excerpted from I Have The Right To by Chessy Prout and Jenn Abelson. Copyright © 2017 by Chessy Prout. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of the Prout family.

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