Swimmer’s Suicide Casts Light on Campus Sex Assaults

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  • COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Colleges and universities are struggling with sex assaults on campus, even as they spend more time and money to comply with stricter enforcement of gender discrimination laws.

    But the case of a University of Missouri swimmer, who said she was raped in an episode her parents say led her to suicide, presents a challenge: How do schools balance protecting their student populations with the needs of victims like Sasha Menu Courey, who chose not to go to police?

    A police investigation is now underway, but Menu Courey’s parents say the university and its athletics department should have already investigated their daughter’s alleged off-campus rape by as many as three football players in February 2010.

    University leaders said they didn’t learn about the purported attack until after Menu Courey committed suicide 16 months later. They said they followed the law and didn’t have specific knowledge of the incident or a victim to interview.

    President Barack Obama last week announced a new task force on college sex assault, citing statistics showing that 1 in 5 females are assaulted while in college but only 1 in 8 report attacks. The White House called it a public health epidemic.

    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 that 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.

    Lhamon’s department recently announced an investigation of Penn State University’s handling of sexual harassment and assault complaints. The University of Colorado and California State University-Fresno have been ordered to pay millions for Title IX violations asserted in victim lawsuits.

    At the University of Missouri, extensive efforts have been made to reduce sexual violence on campus. An equity office led by a lawyer oversees compliance with Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law more commonly known for ensuring equal gender participation in college sports. Counseling and help is available through two campus agencies.

    Students who eschew legal intervention can seek a campus disciplinary hearing. The university can also help students switch dorms or classes, or bar contact outright.

    The university didn’t immediately investigate after Menu Courey, who was from Canada, killed herself in June 2011. She had by then withdrawn from classes at the university’s urging and lost her financial aid.

    The 20-year-old, who had attempted suicide two months earlier, was in a Boston psychiatric hospital after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

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