November 27, 2014

University of Missouri responds to questions surrounding Menu Courey story

You read ESPN’s take and saw the Outside the Lines feature on Sunday morning regarding the story of former swimmer Sasha Menu Courey. Now, the University of Missouri-Columbia has sent out another press release attempting to answer some of the more common questions that have come up since the feature aired.

Q: Why didn’t the University start an investigation as soon as officials first knew about an allegation of sexual assault? 

A: University of Missouri officials were not aware of any allegation of sexual assault until late 2012. (Sasha died in 2011.) In the process of gathering documents in response to Sasha’s parents’ Sunshine Law request, MU discovered a transcript of an online chat between Sasha and a crisis hotline that included a reference to an alleged sexual assault. Sasha had never reported this to University officials or requested an investigation while she was alive, and the transcript did not include the name of an assailant or any other specific information that would prompt an investigation. However, after discovering this document, the University contacted the parents and asked if they would like an investigation to take place. The parents did not respond. Therefore, at that point in time, which was after Sasha’s death, the University was unable to go forward with an investigation due to no request for an investigation and a lack of specific information. Prior to this, the only personnel who knew of Sasha’s allegations of sexual assault were health care providers who are restricted by privacy laws from discussing a patient’s conversations without the consent of the patient. ESPN acknowledges that health care providers are not required to make reports about sexual assaults without patients’ permission.

Q: Isn’t MU required to do a Title IX investigation, especially after the Columbia Daily Tribune reported in early 2012 that an assault had occurred?

A: The U.S. Department of Education’s official guidance on Title IX states, “If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.” The Feb. 12, 2012 Columbia Daily Tribune article contained only these two sentences about an alleged assault: “Menu Courey also wrote in her diary months later that she was sexually assaulted at the end of her freshman year. She did not name the attacker.”

This information did not suggest that the alleged assault occurred on or near campus or in this country or Canada; nor did it indicate that any other students were involved. This is not enough information to suggest that the University “reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment.”

Although Sasha’s parents shared this information from her journal with the Columbia Daily Tribune prior to publication of the Feb. 12, 2012 article, they never – not at that time or since – brought this information to the attention of the University or otherwise asked the University to investigate.

Q: Why is the University now turning over information to the Columbia Police Department and asking them to investigate? 

A: Although Sasha’s parents still have never responded to the University’s inquiry, the ESPN story quotes them as saying that they want an investigation to be conducted. In addition, the ESPN story included names of individuals who might have relevant information regarding the alleged February 2010 assault. This was the first time that University officials had any concrete information on which to base an investigation. When the name of the man with whom Sasha had consensual sex and at whose residence the alleged assault occurred was revealed, the University checked its records and determined that the man had an off-campus address. Accordingly, the information was referred to the appropriate law enforcement officials, the Columbia Police Department.

Q: Why was Sasha taken off the swim team? 

A: Sasha was never “taken off” the swim team. From the time she came to MU in 2009 until Sasha, in consultation with her parents, approved submission of a withdrawal form in the spring of 2011, she remained a team member and was receiving a scholarship. Sasha’s scholarship was not cancelled even upon her withdrawal from classes, and she was entered into the financial aid system for summer school on May 3, 2011. Sasha remained enrolled in fall semester classes until her death.

Specific questions have been raised regarding Sasha’s withdrawal from classes in spring of 2011. Sasha had been a patient at University Hospital following her suicide attempt. Based on her parents’ decision to move her to an inpatient mental health care facility in Kansas City, an athletics department academic advisor suggested, to protect Sasha’s academic record, that Sasha sign a form of withdrawal from classes while still in Columbia, to be used only if it became evident that Sasha would not return to school that semester. Sasha and her parents agreed. Sasha signed and dated the form April 6, 2011. Sasha’s parents then decided to move Sasha from Kansas City to a facility in Boston. At this time the unlikelihood of her return to school that semester was discussed, and Sasha and her family made the decision to have the withdrawal form submitted. The appropriate University official signed it on April 19, 2011.

Q: Are you concerned about sexual assaults involving students? 

A: The University’s top priority is the safety and security of its students. Of course, we are concerned about alleged sexual assaults, and the University takes appropriate action to address such allegations. The first action is to make certain that the alleged victim is provided with all needed assistance. The University’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center’s (RSVP) staff, counseling services and medical personnel are on-call 24 hours a day to assist victims in a comprehensive way. The next action step is to ascertain the wishes of the alleged victim about the handling of the alleged assault. Consistent with Title IX, the University considers whether the alleged victim wishes to maintain confidentiality before determining whether to proceed with an investigation. Although an investigation may be necessary in some situations regardless of the wishes of the victim, the victim’s wishes are respected to the extent consistent with the University! ’s obligation to provide a safe environment. In addition, MUPD personnel inform the community through a Clery release if a threat to the university community exists.

Q: How do you feel about the investigation President Wolfe is calling for? 

A: We agree with President Wolfe that the safety and security of our students is our most important priority. While we feel that University of Missouri personnel did everything possible considering the amount of information available at the time to help Sasha Menu Courey, we support a full review of the university’s policies and procedures and look forward to any potential improvements that might be identified.