MSU fires back against lawsuit over alleged rape

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State University said the woman accusing three former basketball players of a 2015 sexual assault was treated appropriately by the school’s Counseling Center, and the school said it has found no evidence that she was discouraged from making a Title IX complaint or a complaint to police.

The accusations were made Monday in a federal lawsuit, accusing MSU of discouraging the woman from reporting the alleged rape to police and failing to tell her of the option to report it to university officials.

John Engler

The school issued a detailed statement Wednesday about the claims, saying the woman “never revealed the names of her alleged assailants nor, until she filed her lawsuit, did she publicly assert that an assault had occurred.”

“We have not found any evidence or indication that she was discouraged in any way to make a Title IX complaint or a complaint to the police department,” the statement said. “On the contrary, the student said she was then too distraught to discuss her circumstances. The counselor also suggested she visit the Sexual Assault Program unit on campus.

MSU said records confirmed that the woman visited the the MSU Counseling Center and “show that appropriate care and relevant information for a rape victim was provided to the student.”

Releasing the response is a reversal of course for MSU, which university spokeswoman Emily Guerrant on Monday said does not comment on pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, the student was discouraged by the counseling staff “to the point that she decided she could not report the rape(s) to law enforcement.”

The school said that in February 2016, Jane Doe received additional services from the Sexual Assault Program unit, “including group counseling sessions, participating in a consultation with a sexual assault advocate, and scheduling an initial appointment with a sexual assault program therapist (an appointment which she did not appear for).”

The suit came on the heels of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal that rocked MSU and follows a string of sexual assault allegations against Spartan athletes.

It also comes as MSU faces investigations over its handling of complaints against Nassar from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, state lawmakers and Congress, as well as an inquiry into the school’s handling of Title IX complaints by the U.S. Department of Education.

Attempts to reach the woman’s attorney Wednesday were not immediately successful.

The alleged assault occurred in April 2015, days after Michigan State played in the Final Four, according to the lawsuit. The woman, then an 18-year-old studying to be a sports journalist, went to MSU’s Counseling Center and disclosed the incident to a staff member. When she told the employee that the rape involved members of the basketball team, another person was brought into the room and they told the victim she could file a police report but cautioned her about the consequences of doing so, according to the complaint.

“The MSUCC staff made it clear to (the victim) that if she chose to notify the police, she faced an uphill battle that would create anxiety and unwanted media attention and publicity as had happened with many other female students who were sexually assaulted by well-known athletes,” according to the lawsuit.

The counseling center staff also failed to advise the victim to seek medical care, outline her option to take the complaint to MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity, or notify her of her Title IX rights, the suit alleges.

MSU has been under federal monitoring for violating Title IX in the handling of sexual assault cases on campus. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits educational programs or activities from discriminating against someone on the basis of their sex.

The complaint, which claimed the incident illustrates a culture that is indifferent to victims, prioritizes athletes over student safety and puts young women at heightened risk for sexual assault and its fallout, seeks unspecified damages and a court order requiring MSU to take “effective steps to prevent sex-based discrimination and harassment, including sexual assault, in all its programs and activities.”

In its statement MSU said that in October 2015, “Jane Doe’s father contacted her academic advisor to discuss concerns over academic performance. Through that conversation, the advisor learned about the alleged sexual assault. Academic advisors are mandatory reporters under MSU’s policies and the academic advisor promptly took the appropriate step of notifying the MSU Police Department about the potential assault.”

MSU said in its response Wednesday that the MSUPD Special Victims Unit “took the report seriously and tried to reach Jane Doe to start the investigation and gather more information, but Jane Doe did not respond to their outreach.”

“An informational email was sent to her that outlined resources available to her, including Title IX information, options to contact the Office of Institutional Equity and relevant counseling services,” the statement said.

The school said information shared during meetings with MSU counseling and psychiatric services is private and confidential and that MSU police didn’t have names or information “about possible assailants because Jane Doe never responded to their inquiry.”

MSU also said that “at no point was MSU Athletics Department or the basketball program or head basketball coach aware of or notified of the existence of a Jane Doe’s sexual assault allegation.”

The statement concluded with a message from interim MSU President John Engler.

“We are deeply saddened when any student comes to us as the result of a sexual assault,” he said. “For the unfortunate cases where it does happen, MSU has the resources tools and expertise to respond. These resources are available to every member of the community, 24-7, no exceptions.”

Associated Press contributed.