According to ESPN's latest episode of their investigative series "Outside the Lines", the University of Missouri failed to investigate the alleged rape of one of their students, a swimmer, by another student, a star football player. The victim, Sasha Menu Courey, struggled with mental illness so severe that a year and a half after the incident, she committed suicide.
Reporter Tom Farrey and producer Nicole Noren were granted access to numerous journal entries, medical records and videos by Menu Courey's parents. According to a chat with a rape crisis counselor saved to Menu Courey's computer, she was sexually assaulted by a football player in February 2010 while intoxicated after having consensual sex with one of his friends. That account is confirmed by one of her friends, also a football player, who saw a videotape of the events (as seems to often be the case in these situations, the tape has since been lost). He says that Menu Courey was actually raped by multiple men and believes she doesn't remember them because she was drunk.
Before the rape, Menu Courey had already attempted suicide once, in high school. After it, she attempted to commit suicide again, started seeing a campus therapist and was prescribed anti-depressants. Eventually, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. All told, ESPN reports that six campus medical officials knew of the rape and that one member of the athletic staff was informed.
But the athletic office denies that they were ever told of Menu Courey's rape, stating that the first they heard of it was through a 2012 interview with her parents in the Columbia Daily Tribune. It seems like a rather extreme communication breakdown between Missouri officials and Menu Courey took place. She was told by the school to take some time away from the swim team to take care of herself mentally and heal a back injury. She was also asked to sign a letter requesting that she withdraw from the university – which she did, while hospitalized – and was sent a letter revealing that her financial aid package was in jeopardy because of the withdrawal. The school now clarifies that she wouldn't have lost her financial scholarship, but was that information ever made clear to her? It seems like the answer is no. No information was made clear to her and she was certainly not in a position to demand it.
While her sexual assault was clearly a turning point for Menu Courey in regards to her mental health, whether the school was aware of her rape or not doesn't matter much. What they were aware was her ongoing mental and physical health issues, and they showed a typical lack of understanding for how to handle those. Students dealing with eating disorders or depression in college are often basically forced to take a leave of absence by school officials or take time away from the activities that give them support and structure, like athletics. The colleges might present these moves as a measure of protection for the student, but it's really about liability. Will this student harm themselves when they are on our campus and enrolled in our classes? And will we be sued if they do?
In a lengthy letter sent by Missouri Associate Athletic Director of Communications Chad Moller to ESPN before the piece was published Friday, Moller seemed concerned about the tenor of their piece. He suggested they look to a recent People magazine article about the death of Pastor Rick Warren's son by suicide as an example of the type of reporting they should be doing:
The fact is that Sasha had mental health problems before she came to Mizzou, and after we became aware of those concerns we did everything we could to support her and guide her to people and resources to help her. Her parents seem to have made great efforts to get help for Sasha as well, including getting her to an elite treatment facility in Boston. Ultimately, none of it could prevent such a tragic end to a young woman's life which had so much potential, and it certainly is a stark realization of just how difficult of an issue that mental illness can be.
If we are to believe that Missouri officials truly didn't know about Menu Courey's sexual assault, it's hard to believe that if they had, they would have done anything about. This is a school that, like many other universities, has spent the last few years dealing with increased pressure to crack down on sexual assault cases. As ESPN notes:
At the time, the University of Missouri was facing an uptick of reported campus sexual assaults. The number of reported allegations of forcible sexual crimes rose from two during Courey's freshman year of 2009, to five in 2010 when she was allegedly raped, to 11 in 2011, according to Department of Education data compiled by the school. The athletic department was also under scrutiny at the time, as star running back Derrick Washington was charged with felony sexual assault of an athletic department tutor in 2010 and convicted in 2011.
Don't forget about basketball player Michael Dixon Jr. in 2012.
Since finding out about the alleged rape, Mizzou has cooperated with Menu Courey's parents in investigating what happened to their daughter only at her parent's prompting. "Outside the Lines" reports that Missouri officials believe they don't have enough information to bring Menu Courey's case to the police or do any further investigating. Moller said he believes by not digging into it, the school is respecting Menu Courey's wishes. "In this situation, it is clear that Sasha chose not to report this incident to anyone at MU other than mentioning it to healthcare providers who were bound to respect her privacy," he wrote in an email.
That lack of substantial available help was something that Menu Courey was likely painfully aware of, as most victims of sexual assault and/or students who suffer with depression and anxiety are. During one of her suicide attempts, she ended up being held down by police officers while they tried to get a razor away from her. While this was happening she was screaming, "The system failed me! The system failed me!"
Screenshot via ESPN/Lynn Courey