A sign for Michigan State University is seen near the campus in East Lansing, Mich., in February. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
A Michigan State University student has accused three prominent Spartans basketball players of raping her in an off-campus apartment in 2015 and said campus counselors discouraged her from reporting the sexual assaults to police, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
The female student, who was not named in the lawsuit, accused the university of creating “an environment where football and basketball players can sexually assault females without repercussion.”
“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.”
The Title IX lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, does not name the three basketball players or the counselors who allegedly deterred the female student from contacting police. University officials could not immediately be reached for comment by The Washington Post. Emily Guerrant, university spokeswoman and vice president, told the Detroit Free Press on Monday the university does not comment on pending litigation
The young woman’s allegations come amid an ongoing sexual assault scandal involving Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State and USA Gymnastics doctor accused by more than 250 girls and women of sexual abuse.
The Michigan attorney general’s office is investigating the role others at the school may have played in crimes committed by Nassar, who is spending the rest of his life in prison. His former boss, the former dean of Michigan State’s school of osteopathic medicine, William Strampel, was arrested late last month on charges of sexually assaulting and harassing four female students and mishandling a sexual assault complaint against Nassar.
A number of university officials, including former president Lou Anna Simon, have resigned in the wake of the scandals.
The university is also under investigation by state lawmakers, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education and has faced a string of sexual assault allegations against football and basketball players in recent years.
The unnamed woman who sued Michigan State on Monday was an 18-year-old freshman student and aspiring sports journalist on the night she was allegedly raped.
On the evening of April 11, 2015, the student and her roommate were at a bar in East Lansing when members of the basketball team walked in, the suit alleges. The team had just returned to campus days earlier after being eliminated from the NCAA tournament by Duke University.
After midnight, one of the players offered to buy the young woman a drink, she said. Because of her interest in sports journalism, she accepted. But at no time during the night did she indicate a “romantic interest” in any of the team members, the lawsuit states.
One of the players then invited her to a party at his apartment, leading her to believe her roommate was also going. The 18-year-old agreed and accepted a ride to the off-campus apartment from two of the players.
Before she left the bar she was already having a hard time holding onto her glass, the lawsuit states, even though “she had not had a lot to drink.”
When she arrived at the apartment, she realized her roommate was not there. “There was no party” the lawsuit stated, “as few people were present.” She became extremely hungry and thirsty and was “feeling discombobulated,” according to the lawsuit. “She tried to send a phone text, but she could not control her thumbs to formulate a text.” She began to wonder if she might have been drugged.
One of the players then pulled her into a bedroom and told her “you are mine for the night.” Feeling uncomfortable, she managed to leave the bedroom and head back to the living room. But another player, who lived in the apartment, later asked her if she wanted to see some of his basketball memorabilia.
She was drinking a glass of water when suddenly “the room went dark,” according to the lawsuit. The basketball player allegedly threw her on the bed, pinning her face down so she could not move. He then allegedly raped her from behind while she cried, unable to move or speak, according to the lawsuit.
Two other players, including the one who earlier said “you are mine for the night,” then allegedly took turns raping her, the lawsuit says. The young woman blacked out and woke up on a couch in the apartment hours later. She called a taxi and went to her dorm room “distraught, traumatized, and crying.”
She went to the campus counseling center the following week, according to the suit. When she told a female counselor that she was raped by three university basketball players, the counselor brought another person into the room with them, according to the lawsuit. It was not clear why, or who the person was.
A counseling staff member told the student she could either file a police report or cope with what happened on her own, according to the lawsuit. But she made the student believe it would not be in her best interest to report the alleged rape, as it would create unwanted anxiety, the lawsuit says.
“If you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish,” a staff member told her, according to the lawsuit. The counseling staff at no point encouraged her to seek testing for sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy testing, the lawsuit says, and they did not advise her on how to report the rape to the university’s Office of Institutional Equity. She never learned of her right to ask for a no-contact order to keep the three men away from her dorm, according to the lawsuit.
The woman told ESPN’s Outside the Lines that she did not contact police in 2015 because she and some of her underage friends had used fake IDs to get into the bar the night of the alleged rape. Speaking with ESPN on condition that she not be identified, she said she worried they would be charged with underage drinking, and counseling staff did nothing to ease those concerns.
By October, she had become so “traumatized, depressed, and withdrawn” that she was admitted to an outpatient psychiatric day-program and stopped attending her classes, she said in the lawsuit. Eventually she was forced to withdraw for the semester.
She resumed classes in January 2016 but changed her major, “as her dream of becoming a sports journalist had been destroyed,” the lawsuit said.
“Everyone I was in classes with or working with was just all into sports, like ‘bleed green,’” the student told ESPN’s Outside the Lines. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘If only you could look at them like I have to. If only you knew what it felt like.’”
Her 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 lawsuit follows investigations by both ESPN and the Detroit Free Press that found a string of sexual assault complaints involving Michigan State football and basketball players in recent years and a pattern of inaction and information suppression by university officials.
At least 16 Michigan State football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women since Mark Dantonio became head coach in 2007, according to an ESPN investigation. Three former football players pleaded guilty last week to reduced charges in the 2017 sexual assault of a woman in an apartment bathroom.
This is the third time since 2010 that multiple Michigan State basketball players have been accused of raping a woman, according to the Detroit Free Press. Last month, a freshman walk-on basketball player, Brock Washington, was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge. He had been under investigation for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, according to the Free Press.
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