COLUMBIA — The University of Missouri has rebutted a story published Friday by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” denying that school officials acted improperly by failing to report an alleged sexual assault against a female swimmer who later committed suicide.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
According to documents obtained by ESPN, Sasha Menu Courey alleged that she had been raped by a football player in February 2010. The Star confirmed that the incident was never reported to MU or Columbia police, but the ESPN story indicates that medical personnel at the school were aware of Menu Courey’s accusation.
An MU athletic department official countered that those medical personnel are bound by privacy and legal concerns and no other employees who could have launched an investigation — as legally required by Title IX and the Cleary Act — were informed of the alleged assault.
“As soon as MU officials became aware of this sexual incident while reviewing Sasha’s e-mail account in response to a records request from Sasha’s parents (in August 2012), they wrote to Sasha’s parents and asked whether they wanted an investigation to occur,” Chad Moller, MU associate athletic director for communications, wrote in an email response to ESPN, which the school posted on its athletics website.
Moller said Menu Courey’s parents, Lynn Courey and Mike Menu, had not responded, so the university hadn’t launched an investigation.
MU’s position, according to Moller’s letter, is that the Title IX obligation to investigate and report all sexual assault complaints does not supersede the healthcare providers’ “duties of privacy and confidentiality to the student under state law, professional rules, and HIPAA.”
“They are not required, or even allowed, to report the sexual assault to law enforcement or campus administrators without the authorization of the student,” Moller wrote in the email to “Outside the Lines.”
Still, the ESPN report indicates that university officials learned of the allegation months earlier after a February 2012 story in the Columbia Daily Tribune about Menu Courey — who committed suicide while being treated at McLean Hospital outside Boston on June 17, 2011 — circulated through the athletic department.
The story mentions a journal entry Menu Courey wrote May 12, 2011, that said she had called academic adviser Meghan Anderson and told her of the alleged rape. According to ESPN, Anderson denied being told about the sexual assault.
Nonetheless, email records obtained by ESPN indicated a link to the story was circulated among athletic department staff, including Missouri athletic director Mike Alden.
No action was taken during February 2012 after that story was published. Missouri didn’t attempt to begin an investigation until several months later, after Menu Courey’s parents, Lynn Courey and Mike Menu filed a records request that uncovered an archived online chat between their daughter and a rape crisis center.
According to an April 4, 2011, letter from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which outlines the Title IX requirements regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault, a school is obligated to investigate harassment and assault claims.
The letter further stipulates that schools should “inform and obtain consent from the complainant … before beginning an investigation” and that schools should honor a complainant’s request for confidentiality or not to pursue an allegation.
“Had Sasha told any of our staff that she felt she had been assaulted, we expect that our staff would have reported it immediately to the proper authorities,” Moller wrote in a letter to ESPN in December.
Moller said Alden was unavailable for comment and that the letter and email to ESPN represent MU’s position. Moller reiterated that the university has not heard back from Menu or Courey, so there still hasn’t been an investigation.
“Sasha’s parents have not responded and we are not aware that they have taken any other action to prompt an investigation, such as filing a complaint with law enforcement,” Moller wrote in Thursday’s email to ESPN. “We continue to believe that MU has done the right and appropriate thing in asking Sasha’s parents about their wishes.”
But Lynn Courey, Sasha’s mother, told ESPN that she wants MU to share what it knows with law enforcement. “They should investigate,” she told the network. “Without a doubt.”
Menu Courey was a freshman on the Missouri swimming and diving team four years ago when she allegedly was sexually assaulted by at least one Tiger football player.
According to the timeline constructed through medical records by ESPN, two months after the alleged assault, Menu Courey checked into the campus hospital in April 2010 and soon went on medication to treat depression. She began attending counseling at Missouri’s Student Health Center in July 2010.
Menu Courey disclosed to the athletic department in August 2010 that she had been hospitalized for a “major depressive disorder,” but she didn’t disclose the sexual assault until an online conversation with a rape crisis hotline, which she saved to her email as a draft on December 2010.
Later that month, Menu Courey, who also was dealing with a back injury suffered that August, told her university therapist about the assault for the first time.
Tigers swimming coach Greg Rhodenbaugh, who took over the program in May 2010 and told “Outside the Lines” he had no knowledge of the sexual assault, asked Menu Courey to stop training with the team in January 2011.
He told ESPN he wanted to use swimming as motivation for Menu Courey to focus on counseling and get healthy again.
During late March 2011, Menu Courey checked into the hospital, and an intake form contained the words “raped/football player” in reference to history of sexual abuse.
She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder during a 10-day hospital stay and attempted suicide on April 3, 2011, a few days after being released into the care of her parents.
She was transferred to a facility in Kansas City and was presented with a university withdrawal form, which she signed April 6, 2011. The reason listed for her withdrawal was “hospitalization for inpatient direct care in Canada.”