CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A congresswoman who went public last year with her story of sexual abuse decades ago on Capitol Hill says she's gained inspiration from the younger generation of women.
"It's been really helpful to tap into a younger generation that is really stepping up and saying, 'This is not OK.' We need to do better to raise awareness around consent," Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster said in an interview Monday.
Kuster was back home to join teenager Chessy Prout in a panel discussion at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. She recently launched a bipartisan task force to address sexual violence, and the 60-year-old Kuster and the teenage Prout are advocates for those who've been sexually assaulted.
"I admire her courage and conviction and her willingness to speak out," Kuster said of Prout ahead of the discussion.
Prout, who first spoke last year about being sexually assaulted at a prestigious prep school in 2014, said she has gone public after realizing most victims of sexual assault don't have the kind of support she received from her family and others.
"I want to help other young women and men realize there are teams of people willing to help you, believe you and support you," Prout told a crowd of about 100 people at panel discussion that also featured several advocates from New Hampshire sexual assault prevention groups.
She said victims shouldn't be ashamed.
"It's the perpetrators who are supposed to be ashamed of what they are doing," she said. "I feel like it's my job to make kids in high school and in middle school and even younger more comfortable about talking about these uncomfortable things. It's necessary."
Owen Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was convicted in 2015 of sex assault charges and of using a computer to lure a minor for sex when he was a senior at St. Paul's School in Concord. Prosecutors say he assaulted Prout as part of a competition known as Senior Salute, in which seniors sought to have sex with underclassman. He is appealing his case.
Prout was 15 and a freshman at the school at the time and has since joined Kuster's efforts to raise awareness about assaults. Now 18 and attending another high school in Florida, Prout said her advice was for students to ask questions, challenge the prevailing culture and "not accept things for how they are."
"Don't accept the status quo," she said. "I did that for too long at St Paul's School. I accepted the culture for what it was and thought I couldn't do anything to change it."
Kuster last year revealed that a celebrity surgeon assaulted her decades ago when she was a young staffer in Washington, D.C. The task force she announced earlier this month will explore key areas: K-12 education, college campus safety, the rape kit backlog, military sexual trauma, ending online harassment, improved data and collection and law enforcement training.
She said task force members will hold hearings and put together a legislative agenda.