Michigan State University has denied the claims made by a female student who filed a Title IX lawsuit Monday alleging that the university failed to provide her adequate support and services after she reported being raped by three Spartans basketball players in 2015.
The university's response, posted on its website Wednesday, states that the school provided the student "appropriate care and relevant information" and found no evidence that "she was discouraged in any way to make a Title IX complaint or a complaint to the police department."
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, states the woman suffered severe emotional distress and had to temporarily withdraw from classes, change her major, seek psychiatric help and constantly fear running into the three men on campus as a result of the incident and the school's failure to properly respond.
Neither the woman, who is a current student, nor the three players, who are no longer at the school, were named in the lawsuit.
The woman's lawsuit states that on April 12, 2015, she was thrown down on a bed at the apartment of an MSU basketball player, held down and raped by three basketball players. She would later wonder if she had been drugged, as she had been losing muscle control throughout the evening and was unable to move or speak while the three players took turns sexually assaulting her, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states that she went to the MSU Counseling Center on April 20, 2015. When the woman told a counselor that she had been sexually assaulted by "notable MSU athletes on the basketball team," the counselor told her that she needed someone else in the room and then brought in another person whose identity the woman said she did not know, the lawsuit states, and the "counselor's demeanor completely changed."
The lawsuit states that the counseling center staff made it clear to the woman that if she chose to notify 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."
In its statement, MSU disputed any allegation that the woman was deterred: "On the contrary, the student said she was then too distraught to discuss her circumstances."
It notes that MSU police tried to contact the woman and start an investigation after they had been alerted by the woman's academic adviser, who had learned of the alleged sexual assault when the woman's father called in October 2015 to discuss "concerns over academic performance." MSU's statement indicates that the woman "did not respond" to MSU Police Department's outreach, and the woman was then sent an email that outlined resources available to her, including contact information for the Office of Institutional Equity, which investigates Title IX sexual violence complaints.
On Thursday, Julie A. Jacot, an attorney representing the woman, responded to Michigan State's statement, saying: "Our client did not report what happened in the first place because she was afraid of the retaliation if she went forward. Her fears proved true when she read the University's statement in response to her complaint. Instead of responding to her allegations appropriately, they chose to victimize her all over again in the media.
"We have documentation that supports her story. We will present it in an appropriate forum at an appropriate time. Not in the media."
According to MSU's statement, campus police did not have the names of the alleged assailants, and, "At no point was MSU Athletics Department or the basketball program or head basketball coach aware of or notified of the existence of the woman's sexual assault allegation." MSU spokesperson Emily Gerkin Guerrant said the academic adviser did not know that the alleged assailants were athletes, and therefore the police would not have known that either.
MSU's statement indicated that the woman has yet to file a report with police or make a Title IX complaint. In an Outside the Lines story Monday, attorney Karen Truszkowski said that while the woman had not yet reported it to police, "I cannot say that she's not ever going to report it."
Outside the Lines asked Guerrant if the university had information regarding the woman's claim that she told the counselor the three men were on the basketball team, and Guerrant said she would check but was unsure what the school could say while still protecting the woman's privacy.
The woman's lawsuit states that she temporarily withdrew from the school in fall 2015, but indicated that she returned the following semester. In February 2016, the woman sought help from the MSU Sexual Assault Program, which provides counseling and advocacy specifically for students who report incidents of sexual violence. The woman's lawsuit states that she was still not notified of her rights under Title IX and her option to report the incident to the Office of Institutional Equity.
The MSU statement indicates that when the woman visited the SAP, she received group counseling and consultation with an advocate, and that she did not show up for a scheduled appointment with a therapist.
MSU's statement ended with a note from interim president John Engler: "We are deeply saddened when any student comes to us as the result of a sexual assault. 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."