MSU Survivor Stories, Records Reveal ‘Sexually Hostile Environment’

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She told Michigan State University she was sexually assaulted by Dr. Larry Nassar during a visit to his campus office in 2014 for treatment of hip pain.

MSU told her she wasn’t.

She said Nassar cupped her buttocks, massaged her breast and vaginal area. She said he became sexually aroused.

MSU’s Title IX office, which investigates gender discrimination claims including allegations of sexual assault and harassment, determined she didn’t understand the “nuanced difference” between sexual assault and an appropriate medical procedure.

The woman, at the time a recent MSU graduate, said she worried the university wouldn’t take her complaint seriously.

In July 2014, three months after starting an investigation, MSU’s Title IX office dismissed her claim but thanked her for bringing it to their attention. MSU police investigated as well, but Ingham County prosecutors declined to issue charges.

“They just didn’t listen,” said the woman, who the State Journal isn’t identifying because she is an alleged victim of sexual assault. “All of these people. All of these people didn’t listen.”

Jason Cody, a university spokesman, defended MSU’s decision to clear Nassar.

“I think the university made the right decision with the information we had at the time,” he said.

As part of its internal investigation, the university sought the opinions of four medical experts. All had close ties to MSU and Nassar, who now faces three sexual assault charges in a separate case and similar allegations from 50 other women. Nassar, through his attorneys, has denied any wrongdoing. The former MSU team physician, who was fired in September, served as USA Gymnastics’ team physician during four Olympic Games and is one of the figures in a nationwide scandal involving how the organization handles allegations of sexual assault.

The internal systems set up by MSU and other universities to address allegations of sexual violence and sexual harassment operate separately from the criminal justice system. The process and results are cloaked in secrecy, aided by federal privacy laws, and have fueled federal Department of Education investigations and lawsuits across the country.

Court records, university documents and interviews with victims show in stark detail how MSU’s failure to promptly, equitably and sufficiently respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints put women in the campus community at risk.

Consider this:

Denise Maybank, the university’s vice president for student affairs and services, overturned the expulsion of a graduate student with a criminal history who was accused twice by women at MSU of sexual misconduct and harassment, records show.

In another case, a male student who had previously been placed on university probation for groping a woman in 2011 was accused of rape in 2014. He was expelled, appealed to a hearing board without success and then to Maybank, who overturned the expulsion after MSU hired a law firm to reinvestigate the case, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the university.

MSU’s Title IX office, independent of any police investigation, received 334 complaints of sexual misconduct or relationship violence in the four-year stretch that started in the fall of 2011. The Title IX office investigated 71 and took action in 30.

The hearing board that considers appeals didn’t change a single sanction imposed by a discipline board in four years.

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