Crime
9:27 am
Tue January 28, 2014

MU criticized for handling of Menu Courey case

Sasha Menu Courey
Credit Photo provided by Sasha's family

A recent report from ESPN's newsmagazine Outside the Lines criticizes the University of Missouri and its athletic department for failing to intervene in the events surrounding an alleged sexual assault against student athlete Sasha Menu Courey in February 2010.

According to documents obtained by ESPN from MU officials, Menu Courey, a former member of the university's swim team, received counseling following the alleged rape from an on-campus counselor and from a rape crisis counselor. The allegations made apparently were not reported to MU police. Menu Courey died by suicide in June 2011.

Title IX requires colleges and universities to investigate accusations of sexual violence once such allegations are made. However, both according to MU's Title IX documentation, and the federal Clery Act, counselors and healthcare providers like the ones who Menu Courey saw are exempt from reporting allegations of sexual violence. Additionally, Missouri state law exempts employees of rape crisis centers from divulging "any information or records that are directly related to the advocacy services provided to such individuals, unless the confidentiality requirements are waived in writing by the individual served by the center." In short, it's possible that none of the MU medical and health personnel informed of the alleged rape were under any obligation to report the claims to law enforcement.

But ESPN's report faults the university for not investigating the alleged rape after it was made aware of the possible incident. No investigation was launched after ESPN contacted MU for public documents regarding the story, or after Menu Courey's parents filed a public records request with the university seeking documentation regarding the alleged rape.

"We know that under Title IX, schools must have established procedures when handling complaints of sexual discrimination or sexual harassment or any kind of form of sexual violence," said Tracy Cox, the communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, during a conversation on KBIA's Intersection this week. "They also have to take immediate action. You have to look at the school's policies: are they clear? Are they accessible? Are they conveyed through campus? Not only do students know what to do, but do faculty and support staff know what to do when cases like this arise?"

Katherine Reed is the public safety and health editor at the Columbia Missourian and has overseen the newspaper's coverage of stories concerning sexual assault. She said that previous investigations by the newspaper have shown that campus agencies tasked with handling allegations of sexual violence do not necessarily cooperate with each other to the best of their abilities.

"We found that the RSVP Center here on campus and MU police and the Office of Student Conduct didn't necessarily feel that they had to share with each other information about sexual assault, that it was very much up to the survivor to make that decision for herself," she said. "Depending on how you interpret Title IX, it might not be a step far enough, but at this point in our reporting, we're waiting for experts – people more expert than ourselves – to interpret Title IX. In a letter that the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S Department of Education sent to universities in April of 2011, they seemed to feel that there should be a more aggressive approach to reporting, and the Office of Civil Rights even recommended that training be provided to any employee likely to witness or receive a report of sexual harassment or violence. It included in the list teachers, law enforcement, school administrators, counselors, general counsels, health personnel and resident advisers, so that's where our intense curiosity lies."

Zach Wilson, the Development Director at the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said survivors of sexual assault face immense challenges in reporting what happened to them because of various social stigmas attached to sexual violence, and those stigmas make reporting such crimes much harder.

"It is difficult for victims of rape to get justice," he said. "That's just flat out what it is. It's difficult for them to get justice in the courts. It's difficult for them to get justice in their communities. It's difficult for them to get justice, sometimes with themselves, because of all the stuff that's out there, because of all of the victim blaming that occurs … If people aren't connected to supports and resources to help process that, they cannot make that step, and we should not expect them to."

The University has since turned over its investigation into the alleged rape to the Columbia Police Department. MU's athletic department, meanwhile, strongly criticized ESPN's report, saying "the claims in the ESPN story are skewed and unfair" and that "it appears that great lengths have been taken to paint the University in a bad light simply because it asked Sasha's parents about their wishes rather than immediately launching an investigation based on a highly ambiguous chat transcript."