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Swimmer's death casts light on campus sex assaults

College Athletes and Mental Health: Sasha's Story

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The case of a former University of Missouri swimmer claimed 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.

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 that the 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 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.

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."

Join the discussion

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relims711 January 30 2014 at 3:45 AM

My heart goes out to this young woman and her family. Reading the more sensible comments on this incident, it would appear that most people really do know right from wrong. Youth and hormones should not be used as an excuse to carry out rapes. Some perpetrators get away with wrong doing because their superiors are not qualified and/or unwilling to deal with serious crime. All individuals should have the right to report serious cases directly to the police authorities. Athletes and coaches are NOT gods and should not be venerated as such. I do certainly agree with having a dress code. Women's fashion today is scruffy, provocative, and, dare I say, stupid. What makes a grown women want to shove her body into a dress more apt for a 5 year old, I don't know. Although I think there should be freedom to wear what you like women's fashions are not tailored like that of the men. Women are offered shabby dresses cobbled together anyhow. Skimpy and nonsensical.

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1 reply
M relims711 January 31 2014 at 10:12 AM

For what it is worth,
My wife and I hosted high school age foreign exchange students, and the Brazilian girls in one year's group came with their typical school clothes. Their party clothes were more, shall we say, exciting, (but both were not particularly revealing). And yet, compared to the American fashions at the time, the girl's regular clothes were the American dance clothes worn to clubs, and (by the way, very attractive girls) the attention they got was "from the wrong kind of boys", as the girls themselves stated.
(We had mildly cautioned them that their clothing was not the typical school clothing, and they countered that they wore them to school all the time, and they met the published school dress code. We did try, but didn't push...)

We explained that they should try to dress like the other girls that didn't "hang out" with the wrong kind of boys. After school the next day, they were trying to dress down their outfits, and even go shopping to help. Problem solved...

About eight years later, the American fashions had caught up to those Brazilian fashions... But the contemporary Brazilian fashions had moved on, and got the same reaction at school.
(And of course, as before, the kids already knew everything, until they discovered they didn't.)

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scottfam3020 January 29 2014 at 3:54 PM

Wake up colleges. Put some procedures in place with follow-ups and local police involvement. Any kind of crime that involves violence needs to be investigated and reported. Not doing so is no excuse. That student did not recieve enough support from the school. If the perpetrator is discovered, the punishment needs to be punitive whether they are an athelete or not and not swept under a rug. As a result the only contact that Sasha Menu Courey's parents has is a cemetery plot.
All students male and female need to feel secure on a college campus.

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1 reply
mennis0852 scottfam3020 January 29 2014 at 4:53 PM

Reading the story, she never reported the rape to the college and never requested any rape support. You cannot expect the college to do anything if you never report the rape. They are not mind readers.

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Master January 29 2014 at 2:46 PM

Why do I not see anything in the story if she reported it to the police? the only mention of the police is saying they are investigating the actions of the school

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vampyreangelus January 29 2014 at 2:41 PM

too bad she wasnt armed and didnt shoot him, then he would be gone and no one would care.

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2 replies
susan vampyreangelus January 29 2014 at 3:08 PM

" by as many as three football players in February 2010" So which one should she have shot?

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1 reply
jrefrigman susan January 29 2014 at 5:51 PM

Two shots for each one. That's why they make six shooters.

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missy vampyreangelus January 29 2014 at 5:26 PM

No-She probably would have been arrested for attempted murder the way that poor girl's luck seemed to run....She must have felt so abandoned and isolated. To have her withdraw while on suicide watch...what kind of animals run MIZZOU??? For the sake of her GRADES...sheer stupidity

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mauzbiz January 29 2014 at 2:38 PM

One has to ask why only 1 out of 8 report.

Perhaps one of the likeliest explanations is the fear that after all the publicity and courtroom agonies (testifying, cross-examination), the accused may be found not guilty anyway, especially in a college town that worships its athletes, and by that time the victim's life may have been shattered beyond repair. Victims weigh this possibility.

Perhaps another is the victim's unwillingness to subject the accused to a lifetime of criminal sanctions following a conviction, as heinous as the offense was. The penalty may seem to the victim to be disproportionate to the crime. Many would be happy just to have the offense acknowledged.

To address both of these concerns, perhaps there should be a different penal system addressing sexual assault. The current system produces few convictions compared to the number of offenses, is long and drawn out., and leaves the victim forever grasping for justice, with the perpetrators by and large not brought to justice.

By the way, contrary to some of the posts, sexual assaults occuring on campuses do not fall outside of the purview of the local police jurisdiction, any more than theft, homicide, or any other criminal act does.

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skymett8 January 29 2014 at 2:23 PM

Its unfortunate this young woman did not get the help she needed at the time. For those with your negative remarks hope you end up on the other side of the law, you will be RAPE and get a little in jail. If a woman dress skimpy who gives these rapists the right to RAPE her. Its not the first time football players is in the news for raping a woman. Hope money does not help these narcissistic rapists out of this situation.

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missy January 29 2014 at 1:44 PM

why was it necessary to discuss her BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder)? Feeling despair after being messed up and gang-raped needs NO embellishments...Are the men(pack animals) that filmed her and raped her are they labelled with their possible psycho-social, narcissistic disorders. The double standards which we habitually subject women to is sickening.

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1 reply
James missy January 29 2014 at 2:32 PM

They mentioned her BPD because these situations are not as simple as you would like them to be.

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onefortheL January 29 2014 at 1:28 PM

This story is unbelievable!!!and the smug look on the Swim Coach's face as he describes tearing down this young girl's hopes and dreams. He did not care at all about her future, her as a person , nothing. How sad! The story gets sadder and sadder as you listen to what took place over time, and how she really tried to get help, with only a few really hearing her plight. To top it all off, the guys had a tape they made of her being violated. What kind of sons are we raising that take another's life so callously, that they think its ok to sexually abuse her and then laugh about it? We need help all of us , this is very disheartening to say the least.

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ksmsteel2 January 29 2014 at 1:26 PM

you must now the woman of life if there no women in the world no world at all respect women all form

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ksmsteel2 January 29 2014 at 1:22 PM

rape is crim agains women must stop our door or arond the world

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