Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
In this photo provided by Mike Menu is his daughter, Sasha Menu Courey, with teammates. The Canadian family of former University of Missouri school swimmer says the school and its athletics department failed to properly investigate her alleged off-campus rape by as many as three football players in 2010. Menu Courey struggled with mental illness and committed suicide 16 months later. (AP Photo/Courtesy Mike Menu)
Swimmer’s death casts light on campus sex assaults
First Published Jan 29 2014 09:41 am • Last Updated Jan 29 2014 11:16 pm

St. Louis • The case of a former University of Missouri swimmer who said she was raped in an episode that her parents say led to her suicide underscores the problems higher education institutions in the U.S. face in cracking down on sexual assaults.

The parents of Sasha Menu Courey say the university and its athletics department by now should have investigated her alleged off-campus rape by as many as three football players in February 2010.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

University leaders say they didn’t learn about the purported attack until after Menu Courey, a Canadian, committed suicide 16 months later. They also said they followed the letter of the law because they didn’t have specific knowledge of the attack and no victim to interview.

Schools nationwide are spending more time and money fighting campus rape in response to stricter federal enforcement of gender discrimination laws under Title IX. The White House has called it a public health epidemic, and President Barack Obama last week announced the formation of a new task force on college sex assault, citing statistics that show 1 in 5 female students are assaulted while in college, but only 1 in 8 victims report attacks.

But balancing the needs of individual students — including those who report attacks but don’t want a criminal investigation — with protecting the larger community is vexing for many schools.

Colleges and universities are also required to report campus crimes to the federal government under a 1990 law known as the Clery Act.

At least 50 schools have bolstered their efforts in recent years. Complaints of Title IX violations related to sexual violence are also increasing, a sign Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, attributes to new vigilance on campus.

"Obviously, there are all too many that still need prompting," she said.

Earlier this week, Lhamon’s department announced an investigation of Penn State University’s handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints amid the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. The University of Colorado and California State University-Fresno have been ordered by civil courts to pay millions for Title IX violations asserted in victim lawsuits.

The University of Missouri’s efforts to reduce sexual violence on campus are extensive. A campus equity office led by a lawyer oversees compliance with Title IX, the federal law more commonly known for ensuring equal participation by women in college sports but also has broader discrimination protections. There also is counseling and help available through the campus women’s center and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center.


story continues below
story continues below

Students who eschew legal intervention can still seek a campus disciplinary hearing. And the university can also help students switch dorms or class schedules or bar contact outright.

Menu Courey, 20, killed herself in June 2011 in a Boston psychiatric hospital soon after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and two months after an earlier suicide attempt.

"There are many resources out there, but there’s not really any (sense) that she was provided with those resources," said Zachary Wilson, development director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "It’s difficult for sexual assault survivors to go at it alone."

Missouri didn’t immediately investigate the death of Menu Courey, who by then had withdrawn from classes at the university’s urging and lost her financial aid. The school said in a statement Tuesday that a 2012 Columbia Daily Tribune article about Menu Courey’s suicide briefly alluded to the alleged assault, but didn’t meet the legal standard that the school "reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment."

The school says Menu Courey’s parents ignored its request for more information a year ago after it discovered an online chat transcript with a campus rape counselor in which Menu Courey mentioned an earlier attack.

Missouri initially responded to an ESPN story about the swimmer by defending its handling of the case while criticizing the news organization’s "skewed and flawed reporting." But soon after, the university said it was turning over information on the case to Columbia police, since the alleged attack happened off-campus.

A police investigation is underway, and University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe wants the university’s governing board to pay for an independent legal review of how officials handled the situation. The Board of Curators is expected to consider that request at its regular meeting on Wednesday.

Other sexual assault cases have been linked to Missouri’s athletic department. Former running back Derrick Washington was convicted in 2010 of sexually assaulting a tutor in her sleep, and basketball player Michael Dixon transferred in 2012 after two sex assault claims against him went public, though he was never charged.

In suburban Toronto, Mike Menu and his wife Lynn Courey have channeled their grief into a mental health foundation named in her memory. They want accountability from Missouri, though Menu said the couple hasn’t hired an attorney and isn’t "looking for money."

"We just want to make sure that changes are made," Mike Menu said. "We need more than Band-Aids. We need a transformation."

———

Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/azagier



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.