GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) – A Michigan State University student filed a sex-discrimination lawsuit claiming school counselors actively discouraged her from contacting police to report an alleged off-campus rape by three Spartans basketball players.
The woman sued Monday in Grand Rapids federal court under Title IX as an anonymous Jane Doe plaintiff. She claims she was raped at an apartment by three members of the MSU basketball team in the early morning hours of April 12, 2015, and believes she was drugged before the assault.
Her complaint does not name her alleged attackers or university counselors.
Accusing MSU of a lack of transparency in its handling of sexual assault complaints, Doe claims it flaunts normal policies and procedures in sexual assault cases involving high-profile male athletes and allows coaches to investigate complaints behind closed doors.
“Discouraging female students from reporting sexual assaults committed by student athletes plausibly creates an environment where football and basketball players can sexually assault females without repercussion,” the 14-page filing states.
Represented by Lansing attorney Karen Truszkowski, she seeks damages, an injunction, attorney fees and costs.
Truszkowski was not immediately available for an interview on Tuesday, and MSU did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit comes as the university has faced outrage over its handling of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal. The disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor has been sentenced to decades in prison for sexually abusing young female athletes and will most likely die in prison.
Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon resigned after it emerged that Nassar, who also worked for the university, was accused of abusing more than 250 girls and women.
In March, prosecutors charged William Strampel, former dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, over his handling of a complaint involving Nassar, who was his employee, and for allegedly sexually assaulting and harassing four female students.
In Monday's lawsuit, Doe says she was an 18-year-old freshman majoring in sports journalism on the evening of April 11, 2015, when she encountered players from the men's basketball team at a bar. They had returned from playing in the NCAA tournament, according to the lawsuit, having lost to Duke University in the Final Four.
One of the players, identified as John Doe 1, offered to buy her a drink and later invited her to the players' apartment for a party, saying her roommate was already on her way. Doe claims she was not romantically interested in the player or his teammates.
“Plaintiff was having a hard time holding on to her glass even though she had not had a lot to drink,” the lawsuit states.
When she arrived at the off-campus apartment, there was no party and her roommate was nowhere to be seen, according to the lawsuit.
The woman says that she felt "discombobulated" and could not control her hands as she tried to text on her phone, after one of the players, John Doe 2, invited her to his room under the pretext of showing her his basketball memorabilia.
She claims that once in the room, she could not control her hands to play a song on a laptop, “realized something was wrong” and “thought she might have been drugged.”
The woman claims that John Doe 2 forcibly threw her onto the bed and raped her and that she was crying and could neither move nor speak. The two other players, John Does 1 and 3, allegedly entered the room and took turns raping her as the others held her down. She claims she passed out and later woke up on the couch and called a cab.
Over a week later, the complaint states, Doe went to the MSU Counseling Center. She alleges the tenor of the counselor’s inquiries changed after she reported the rape and completed an initial intake and assessment.
“When plaintiff disclosed to the counselor that the three attackers were notable MSU athletes on the basketball team, the counselor suddenly announced to the plaintiff that she needed another person in the room with her and the plaintiff. The counselor’s demeanor completely changed,” the lawsuit states.
She claims that the unnamed counselors told her she would face an “uphill battle” and “unwanted media attention” if she reported the rape to police, and that she would be “swimming with some really big fish” if she decided to involve law enforcement.
"Plaintiff was so discouraged by the representations made by the MSUCC Counseling staff she became frightened to the point that she decided she could not report the rape(s) to law enforcement,” the complaint states.
According to the lawsuit, the university never told the woman that she had a right to a “no-contact” order that would have prevented the players from entering the campus housing where she lived. She claims she often saw one or all of the alleged attackers in the building.
The woman, who underwent therapy and took medications after the incident, says the university’s treatment of sex assault victims means that “female students are discouraged from reporting sexual assault when the alleged perpetrators are well-known athletes.”
The Michigan attorney general, NCAA and state and federal lawmakers are investigating the college in the fallout from the Nassar scandal.
An ESPN investigative report revealed that under football coach Mark Dantonio’s watch, 16 MSU football players had been accused of sexual assault or misconduct and that the coach handled the complaints and discipline.
Three ex-players pleaded guilty this past week to lesser charges stemming from a 2017 sexual assault of a woman in an apartment bathroom, according to the Washington Post.
In the last eight years, Spartan basketball players have faced rape charges on two other occasions, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Monday’s lawsuit alleges MSU has “actively sought” to hide the names of athletes in student records and allowed its former athletic director and coaches to investigate complaints behind closed doors rather than follow "normal reporting and investigative procedures."
“Said policy emboldened male athletes and has given them unwritten permission to commit acts of sexual assault without consequence,” the complaint states.
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