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Student files lawsuit against university after they 'discouraged her from reporting rape'

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A female student has filed a lawsuit in federal court, accusing Michigan State University (MSU) of coercing her into not contacting authorities after she told a counsellor that she had been raped by three university athletes.

The victim, using the alias Jane Doe, alleges that the university failed to properly advise her of her rights, discouraged her from reporting the rape to police, and did not offer adequate resources for help when she spoke to a university counsellor shortly after the 2015 incident.

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The sport journalism student, then 18 years old, was invited to a party by three MSU basketball players in their off-campus home, the lawsuit alleges. When they arrived at the property it became clear that there was in fact no party taking place but the woman felt “discombobulated” and could not “control her thumbs” when attempting to text a friend to ask them to pick her up. She alleges, that at some point, the three men held her down and raped her in a bedroom and she woke up on their couch a few hours later.

She did not go to the police but contacted the Michigan State University Counseling Center about a week after the incident. The counsellor she saw allegedly asked another member of staff, who was not introduced to the victim, to join the room after the victim told the counsellor that the three men “were notable MSU athletes on the basketball team”, after being told this the counsellors demeanour apparently changed drastically.

The two counselling staff members allegedly implied it would not be in the woman's “best interest to report the incident to law enforcement” as they said she would face “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”.

Additionally, the suit states, the victim was not advised to have a physical exam conducted, nor was she told to seek medical treatment, or informed about her federal Title IX gender equity rights and protections and the further steps she could take to report the rape.

The student was, however, referred to the MSU Sexual Assault Programme but she says she did not seek help from the programme until almost a year later as she felt “discouraged and frightened” by her previous experience at the counselling center. The police were never contacted by the victim either as the woman says she was scared and put off by what the counseling center staff had said to her. 

The student suffered from severe panic attacks and depression, something which resulted in her being admitted to an outpatient psychiatric programme and consequently saw her suspending her studies six months after the assault took place.

The university did not provide her any academic support despite requiring her to disclose the reason for her temporary withdrawal from the programme, according to the victim’s lawyer.

MSU further failed to comply with the Title IX law by not providing the victim with equal protection under the federal law. The lawsuit states how the university “created an unwritten, official policy that created a culture in which male MSU athletes felt entitled and emboldened to commit sexual assaults without consequence”.

Through bringing this lawsuit, the victim hopes to encourage more women to report sexual assault. “I don’t want a girl who’s a senior in high school right now, with her whole life ahead of her, to have to go through the same thing I did,” she said.

The lawsuit comes amid a series of troubling news for the university as MSU and its athletic department have been involved in multiple sexual assault scandals recently. In January 2018 Larry Nassar, the former athletic physician for MSU, was convicted for sexual assault of minors after a number of female Olympic gymnasts came forward and reported being molested by the doctor.

As well as this, a report by ESPN also uncovered a widespread pattern of covering up sexual assault allegations involving the university’s athletes and mishandling investigations into the claims. In one instance, two basketball players faced no university sanctions after a female student accused them of rape, while in another, a sports coach was allowed to remain in his post despite being charged with knocking out a female student at a bar. 

MSU have responded to Jane Doe's lawsuit by saying the allegations that university staff discouraged her from reporting her rape to the authorities is untrue. They also released a list of what they allege are the facts, which you can read in full here.

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