WASHINGTON — Chessy Prout does not believe powerful people will do the right thing.
First she was sexually assaulted by an older student at New Hampshire’s elite St. Paul’s School in 2014 when she was just 15 years old. Then she endured the gut-churning experience of testifying against her assailant, Owen Labrie, at his high-profile criminal trial under a shield of anonymity that was still unable to protect her and her family from threats. And finally, she faced the school’s attempt to force her to settle a civil suit using a tactic that angered Prout so much she decided to go public with her story.
That decision further altered the trajectory of her young life. But in the past year, as she settled into a job after college graduation and continued her advocacy on behalf of sexual assault survivors, Prout said it started to feel like everything she had done since the attack had been worth it.
Then the lawyer who employed that hardball tactic was nominated to be a federal judge. In Prout’s view, people with power had let her down again, and just like after the sexual assault, she refused to remain silent.
“I am determined to have some sort of good, or some sort of change, come out of all the horrible things that have happened to me and my family,” she told the Globe.
In January, President Biden tapped former New Hampshire attorney general Michael Delaney for a seat on the US First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. While in private practice, Delaney represented St. Paul’s in the lawsuit and filed a motion opposing Prout’s request for anonymity if the case went to trial, a controversial tactic that was publicly criticized as designed to force a settlement.
Prout and her family made sure the Biden administration and New Hampshire’s senators knew about Delaney’s actions when they heard he was being considered last year. But Biden still nominated him — to Prout’s dismay if not surprise.
“I feel like bad actors get rewarded all the time,” she said of the nomination, which has run into trouble in the Senate because of opposition from the Prouts. “I’m pretty jaded, even at the age of 24 . . . but at the same time, I did have higher hopes for this White House.”
Biden’s history of fighting sexual violence against women, including active participation as vice president in an Obama administration program called “It’s On Us,” had once inspired Prout. The launch of that initiative in 2014 in the aftermath of her own assault helped steel Prout to keep fighting, she said.
“To see this issue be brought up in a really public and noticeable way right when I was going through this issue personally, it felt like kismet, it felt like it was meant to be,” Prout said. “I felt like the tides were turning.”
Biden continued his work on “It’s On Us” after the Obama administration and Prout said she participated in a conference call he held with student leaders in 2017 in which he promised to keep fighting on the issue despite having left the White House.
Biden’s nomination of Delaney left her “extremely disappointed.”
“It is really disheartening that it’s this political party that has been so vocal about supporting survivors, and the fact that they now are throwing their wholehearted support behind a nominee who basically practiced . . . victim intimidation tactics,” she said, “it just blows my mind that there isn’t a better option.”
The White House stood by the pick, saying last month that it “expects senators to take Mr. Delaney’s full record into account when considering his nomination.” Asked about Prout’s criticisms of Biden, a White House spokesperson on Wednesday pointed to that statement.
New Hampshire’s Democratic senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, who recommended Delaney in a pool of candidates that Biden chose from, also said they stand by his nomination. Both have pushed legislation to support sexual assault survivors and said they admire Prout for her advocacy.
But Prout said all that is meaningless if they vote to confirm Delaney.
“There’s so much talk you can do, there’s so many posters you can hang, so many social media posts you can do to support survivors, but that means nothing — nothing — unless you support them . . . in real life,” she said. “It’s been a lot of talk and not so much action.”
Prout said she didn’t have high expectations for Shaheen and Hassan, who were not outspoken in support of her previously. Representative Anne Kuster, a New Hampshire Democrat, was strongly in Prout’s corner from the start. A sexual assault survivor herself, Kuster has declined to speak out publicly against Delaney’s nomination.
Prout said she finds all the politics disheartening.
“I know that judge appointments are totally political and it’s all about . . . how many judges the president can appoint,” she said. “I just wish that it didn’t have to be this way, which is pretty naïve and idealistic of me to say.”
Prout and her family have worked to rally opposition to Delaney. That has included her writing a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering the nomination, with copies sent to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as a Globe opinion article.
At his confirmation hearing last month, Delaney said he was simply representing St. Paul’s School and denied the motion was intended to intimidate Prout. After intense questioning from some Republicans, Delaney asked the committee to “consider the totality of my record over nearly 30 years as it reviews my qualifications.”
Prout, who watched parts of Delaney’s hearing between meetings in her job working for a film production company, said she didn’t buy Delaney’s explanation.
“This was his action as a member of the bar in the state of New Hampshire. He knows the system better than St. Paul’s School does,” she said. “And the fact that he still chose to file that . . . doesn’t speak volumes to his ability to to be a judge in my opinion.”
In addition to opposition from several Republicans, at least two Democrats have indicated they have concerns about the nomination, which is awaiting a committee vote. The new fight has dredged up fresh trauma from a pool that’s never far from the surface for Prout.
“This is something that comes up in my day to day life always, but it’s pretty much amplified by this,” she said. “I am doing what I can, while also trying to maintain some sense of closure and my new adult life.”
Prout graduated last year from Barnard College with a degree in English with a film concentration and a minor in women’s and gender studies. But she asked that other details of her life, including where she lives, not be shared. Prout said she still has difficulty with trust and is “constantly in fear of people conspiring to hurt me.”
She wrote her memoir and founded a nonprofit with her parents called “I Have the Right To” that works “to create an ecosystem of respect and support for students and survivors of sexual assault.”
Prout has tried to find purpose in the aftermath of the attack. One step was fighting back against Delaney’s motion in her civil suit, which ended in a settlement. The latest step is fighting to make sure he doesn’t become a federal judge.
“My journey as a survivor was all about regaining control and power over my autonomy, my body, my story. . . . I was so angry, but just wanted to take away any sort of leverage or power that they had over me,” she said of her response to Delaney’s legal tactic. “I really do think it’s my duty and my job, and my family feels the same way, to make sure that these tactics . . . stop being weaponized against young survivors.”
Jim Puzzanghera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera.