Update: MSU Regrets Revealing Too Much About Rape Case

April 13, 2018, 12:17 PM by  Allan Lengel


Update, 12:08 p.m. Friday: Michigan State University apologizes for disclosing "unnecessary detail" about visits to its counseling center by a student who recently filed a federal lawsuit against the university alleging she was discouraged from reporting being raped by three basketball players, David Jesse of the Detroit Free Press reports.

The apology came Friday from John Engler, the former governor serving as the MSU interim president.

The statement comes a day after experts told the Detroit Free Press the statement likely violated federal privacy laws.

"In our urgency, given the filing of a federal lawsuit against MSU late Monday, to assure the campus community that MSU employees are acting lawfully and following reporting protocols, following appropriate treatment protocols, and are not discouraging reporting, we regret that we provided an unnecessary amount of detail to convey that point, which has been perceived by some as violating privacy expectations," Engler said in his statement, which he read during Friday's board meeting. "The staff in the MSU Counseling Center and the Sexual Assault Program are highly professional and work hard every day to provide their clients with outstanding care and support.

Update, 11:15 a.m. Thursday: While trying to defend itself in a just-filed rape lawsuit, Michigan State University may have violated multiple laws by issuing a detailed public statement about the case.

A statement issued Wednesday by the school likely violated at least one federal student privacy law, and maybe another campus crime reporting law, experts tell David Jesse of the Detroit Free Press. The federal lawsuit alleges that three MSU basketball players raped a woman in 2015 when she was a freshman, and the school's counseling center successfully discouraged her from reporting the crime to police.

The school issued a lengthy statement denying that it discouraged the woman from reporting the matter or failed to tell her of all her rights as a rape victim.

The Freep goes on to report:

But the biggest problem with the statement, those experts and other victim rights advocates said, will be its effect on future students who need counseling center services or want to report a sexual assault.

"They are sending a very clear message – don’t report and don’t sue us,” said nationally known victim rights advocate Brenda Tracy, herself a survivor of a gang rape by football players when she was in college. “I don’t know how anyone on campus would trust the university enough to go to their counseling center or to report an assault. They would just think the university is going to out them.

"It’s horrible. It goes to exactly why MSU is in trouble in the first place. It shows their culture exactly.”

Original article, Wednesday night: 

A woman alleges in a lawsuit filed Monday that three Michigan State University basketball players raped her in an off-campus apartment in 2015 when she was an 18-year-old freshman, and the university counseling center dissuaded her her from reporting the crime. 

At the time the suit was filed, MSU officials declined comment.

But now the university issues a lengthy statement strongly denying that it discouraged the woman from reporting the sexual assaults.

"The media has taken these allegations about MSU’s response to her assault as established fact. Unfortunately, they are untrue," the pushback says: 

We have confirmed that, in April 2015, Jane Doe did visit MSU Counseling Center and that our records show that appropriate care and relevant information for a rape victim was provided to the student. 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. 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.

The woman, identified in the lawsuit only as Jane Doe, is suing in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. The defendants are MSU and unnamed counselors at the Michigan State University Counseling Center who dealt with her. The three players are not named.

"MSU has fostered a culture in which female victims are discouraged from reporting sexual assaults when those assaults are perpetrated by male athletes," the lawsuit stated. 

The lawsuit alleges that when the woman told the counselor that the three attackers were notable MSU basketball players, the counselor suddenly announced she needed another person in the room. So, another counseling center staff member entered.

The MSU counseling staff told her she could file a police report or deal with the aftermath of the rape on her own.

The staff, the lawsuit said, "made it clear to plaintiff 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".

They said, in effect, “we have had many other students in the same situation who have reported, and it has been very traumatic for them.”

The staff went on to say that they had seen a lot of these cases with “guys with big names” and the best thing to do is to “just get yourself better."

Photo by Derrick L. Turner of MSU Communications and Brand Strategy staff.

The university statement on Wednesday says:

  • In February 2016, Jane Does visited the Sexual Assault Program unit to receive additional services. She was provided appropriate services, 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Jane Doe never revealed the names of her alleged assailants nor, until she filed her lawsuit, did she publicly assert that an assault had occurred. To date, she has yet to exercise her right to make a Title IX complaint or contact the MSUPD or respond to the effort of the Special Victims Unit to learn information about the assault her father brought to the academic advisor’s attention.
  • Any information shared during meetings with MSU counseling and psychiatric services is private and confidential. When attempting to investigate the issue, MSUPD did not have names or any information about possible assailants as Jane Doe never responded to their inquiry. 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.

Interim MSU President John Engler issues a statement:

“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." 

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