Menu Courey Case: MU Lacked Title IX Protocols

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ROLLA – University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and Board of Curators Chair Don Downing held a news conference on Friday. At the conference the findings of the Dowd Bennett Law Firm were revealed.

The firm investigated whether university employees acted lawfully throughout the alleged sexual assault and death of former MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey.

In 2010, Menu Courey said several MU football players raped her. She initially kept the assault to herself, but over the course of the year she told a rape crisis counselor, a campus therapist, a campus nurse, and two doctors. Despite the fact that many people who knew, the rape was never reported to a higher level.

The athletic department gave this statement:

“No one on the coaching staff and no one in our administration, nor any staff members to the best of our knowledge, was ever told about this event while Sasha was alive.”

In April 2010, Menu Courey checked herself into the campus hospital reporting suicidal thoughts. While Menu Courey was in the hospital, Meghan Anderson from the athletic department asked her to sign a university withdraw form. Then, in May 2012 while Menu Courey was at a hospital in Boston, she called Anderson and told her about the assault. Phone records confirm the call, but Anderson denies she was told about the sexual assault.

While still hospitalized, Menu Courey took hundreds of Tylenol pills and died two days later of organ failure. Her suicide prompted national attention including ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” report. This led the university to seek external assistance in investigating the incidents.

On January 29 the UM Board of Curators issued a resolution calling for an investigation.

Downing said the law firm was chosen for its previous experience with high-profile cases and its resources that enabled the report to be completed by the April deadline.

Downing said additional work has started where campuses will review their polices regarding reporting of sexual assault and mental health. Also, each campus will evaluate the procedures from reporting sexual assault and mental health for victims.

The independent counsel said, "While we do not conclude that the university "violated the law," we do conclude with certainty that the university, as set out above, acted inconsistently with the Department of Education's guidance about the requirements of Title IX and did not act in accordance with what would be expected of a university with a robust Title IX compliance program." 

Dowd Bennett concludes: 

  • The university failed to have Title IX polices in place for its employees contrary to the Department of Education's guidance regarding Title IX
  • The university should have acted on the information it had in November 2012
  • The Columbia Tribune article in February 2012 should have been provided to the Title IX coordinator 
  • There is no definitive conclusion that any university employee knew of Sasha's assault while she was alive, other than medical personnel 
The university failed to have Title IX polices in place for its employees contrary to the Department of Education's guidance regarding Title IX:
Dowd Bennett was hired to investigate whether the university acted consistent with the law and university policies. The law firm said in its report, "However, after a review of existing university policies and interviews with those most responsible for such policies, it does not appear the university has policies addressing how university employees should handle information of a possible sexual assault upon a university student of which they become aware, and what procedures should be followed by the university to investigate and ensure compliance with Title IX once the university receives notice of such allegations." Title IX has polices regarding sexual assault, but for reasons unknown to Dowd Bennett the university had not yet implemented them. Also, when the university received notice that Menu Courey had said she was sexually assaulted, the necessary policies did not exist to ensure the matter was handled in compliance with the Office for Civil Rights guidance about the requirements of Title IX.

The university should have acted on the information it had in November 2012:

In August 2012, Menu Courey's parents submitted open document requests to the university asking for records related to their daughter. The first document was an email. It was a transcription of an online conversation Menu Courey had with someone at the National Sexual Assault Hotline. The second document was a Medical Intake Assessment Questionnaire for a psychologist in Canada. Then on November 20, 2012, the documents were forwarded to the University's Assistant General Counsel. The counsel reached out to several people within the MU Athletic Department and told them the documents indicated sexual assault. Also, on November 27 2012, the Deputy Custodian of Records forwarded the the Columbia Daily Tribune article that said, "The article mentions her diary and a sexual incident from her freshman year." 

 

The Columbia Tribune article in February 2012 should have been provided to the Title IX coordinator: 
Title IX says that if the school knows or reasonably should know about the harassment the school is responsible for taking immediate effective action to eliminate the hostile environment. Although the article's brief mention of the assault is unclear as to whether the assault was during the school year, on or off campus, and whether the possible attacker was affiliated with the university, under the OCR guidance, the incident should have been reported to the Title IX coordinator. 

 

There is no definitive conclusion that any university employee knew of Sasha's assault while she was alive, other than medical personnel: 
Meghan Anderson said she did talk to Menu Courey on the phone on May 12, 2011, but she is adamant that Menu Courey did not tell her she had been raped. She did say Menu Courey said she was hesitant to come back to school because "bad things happened there." Anderson no longer works at the university. 

President Wolfe said Dowd Bennett is currently working with the Columbia Police Department. They are conducting a criminal investigation, and they are looking into who the alleged football player or players are who raped Menu Courey. 

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