A female student says Michigan State subjected her to a “hostile educational environment,” failed to advise her of her rights and did not offer adequate resources for help after she told counselors in 2015 that three Spartans basketball players had raped her.
The allegations are made in a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan that also 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, are named in the lawsuit. Her attorney said the players are not being named because the focus of the lawsuit is “with the way she was treated by the university.”
The attorney, Karen Truszkowski, told Outside the Lines that her client has not reported the incident to police, but, “I cannot say that she’s not ever going to report it.” The woman spoke to Outside the Lines on the condition she not be identified because she fears revealing her identity publicly. The woman said she did not report the alleged assault to police in 2015 because she and some of her friends, who were younger than 21 at the time, had used fake IDs to get into a bar the night of the alleged incident and she worried they would all get cited with underage drinking charges.
Michigan State basketball player Brock Washington has been charged by prosecutors in Ingham County, Michigan, with misdemeanor assault after a criminal sexual conduct investigation.
Michigan State officials have provided more information about how the university handled an allegation of sexual assault in 2010, telling Outside the Lines that administrators would “handle it differently” if such an allegation were made today.
An Outside the Lines investigation has found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of sexual assault and violence allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartans’ athletic department.
She said she filed the lawsuit with the hope it would encourage more women to come forward about assault and to send a message to the university.
“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 woman’s lawsuit states that “MSU has fostered a culture in which female victims are discouraged from reporting sexual assaults when those assaults are perpetrated by male athletes, thus protecting the university, the male athletics programs, and the male athletes at the expense of the female victims.”
Outside the Lines reached out Monday afternoon to Michigan State spokesperson Emily Gerkin Guerrant, who said the university had no immediate comment.
The lawsuit states the woman met the three basketball players in an East Lansing bar on April 12, 2015. She was a journalism major interested in sports reporting and was eager to talk to team members.
She told Outside the Lines that a player bought her a Long Island iced tea and that shortly after she started to drink it, she began to lose control of her muscles — dropping that drink and another. She said she left the bar with some of the players after being led to believe her roommate had gone to a party at an apartment belonging to one of the players. Once at the apartment — and realizing her roommate wasn’t there — the lawsuit states the woman felt “discombobulated” and “tried to send a phone text, but she could not control her thumbs to formulate a text.”
She said in the interview that one of the players said to her, “You know you’re mine for the night?” to which she responded that she was just trying to find her friend. When another player later invited her into his bedroom to look at his sports memorabilia, she said she went willingly because, as an avid sports fan, “I thought it was pretty cool,” she told Outside the Lines. She remembered being incredibly thirsty, and she was given a glass of water, the lawsuit states, and she was “drinking the water when the room went dark.”
She said in the lawsuit that she was thrown down on a bed, was held down and was unable to move or speak while three players took turns raping her.
“I was crying. I was trying to push myself up, and I couldn’t move,” she told Outside the Lines.
“At no time did she consent to the sexual activity,” the lawsuit states.
She said she woke up on a couch in the apartment the next morning and took a cab back to her residence hall. She told Outside the Lines that she later wondered whether her alcoholic drink and the glass of water she was given had been spiked.
The woman eventually told a friend what had happened, and on April 20, 2015, the friend took her to the Michigan State University Counseling Center, according to the lawsuit. When the woman told the counselor that the three men “were notable MSU athletes on the basketball team,” the counselor told her that she needed someone else in the room and 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 her 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.”
She told Outside the Lines that she told the counselor about how she was scared to report the incident to police because she assumed she would get in trouble for underage drinking.
“She never told me or reassured me that that would not be a factor,” the woman told Outside the Lines.
The lawsuit states she was told, “If you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish.”
The lawsuit states that the counseling staff did not notify her of her right to report the incident to MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity, which handles complaints of sexual violence under the Title IX gender equity law, nor did they notify her of her Title IX rights, protections and accommodations.
The woman told Outside the Lines that she was under the impression that by telling the counseling center staff about the alleged assault that she had indeed “reported it” to MSU, and she was unaware that she needed to do anything further to get help. As a result, the lawsuit states, she was not informed of her right to receive a no-contact order to keep the men out of her residence hall, and she suffered “panic and flashbacks” when she saw them in the dining hall.
Her fear persisted into the following semester, and in October 2015 she had “become so traumatized, depressed and withdrawn” that she was admitted to an outpatient psychiatric program for intensive treatment, the lawsuit states.
She told Outside the Lines she couldn’t continue her sports journalism classes because of how she felt.
“Everyone I was in classes with or working with was just all into sports, like ‘bleed green,'” she said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘If only you could look at them like I have to. If only you knew what it felt like.'”
The lawsuit states she temporarily withdrew from school. To get a refund of her tuition, the lawsuit states she had to explain her assault to more university officials and was not informed of any options for academic assistance.
Counseling, academic assistance, and protection and separation on campus from the alleged perpetrators are among the provisions that colleges should provide to students who report incidents of sexual violence, according to federal Title IX guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education.
The lawsuit states that the counseling center staff did refer her to the MSU Sexual Assault Program, which provides counseling and advocacy specifically for people who report being victims of sexual violence. But because her counseling center experience left her “so discouraged and frightened,” the lawsuit states, the woman did not seek help from the SAP until February 2016, by which time she had resumed classes and changed her major.
Even after she sought help from SAP, the 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 — which would have been required to investigate — even though university protocol at that time required SAP advocates to provide that information.
Truszkowski, the woman’s attorney, also represents two women who have accused MSU football players of sexual assault. One was the victim in a case last week in which three now-former players pleaded guilty to felony charges of seduction, after they had been facing sexual assault charges for having pulled the woman into a bathroom and forced her to perform oral sex.
Truszkowski also filed a Title IX lawsuit on behalf of another woman against MSU in fall 2017 stemming from that woman’s report of being sexually assaulted by former football player Keith Mumphery, who was banned from campus in 2016 after the school reversed an earlier finding that Mumphery was not responsible for assaulting the woman. Mumphery never faced criminal charges. In a January court filing, MSU denied her claims and said its actions did not cause her to suffer any additional harassment. On March 15, the judge in that case ordered the parties to mediation.
Michigan State’s athletic department and the university as a whole have been under scrutiny in part because of an Outside the Lines investigation published Jan. 26. The investigation found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of sexual assault, violence and gender discrimination complaints by officials ranging from campus police to the MSU athletic department.
The report publicized not previously known police reports of sexual or violent incidents involving members of the MSU football team and Tom Izzo’s storied basketball program.
On Friday, Outside the Lines reported that Michigan State basketball player Brock Washington was charged by prosecutors in Ingham County, Michigan, with misdemeanor assault on March 8 after a criminal sexual conduct investigation. Washington had been named as the lone suspect in an alleged forcible sexual contact incident that was reported to have occurred at 3 a.m. on Aug. 29, 2017, in a university residence hall and was reported to police two days later. Sources have told Outside the Lines that a female student told campus police that Washington, who has been unable to be reached for comment, had groped her without her permission.