A Michigan State University student filed a federal lawsuit this week saying she was raped by three members of the school's basketball team and was discouraged from reporting the crime by a school official — an allegation the university said was false.
According to the complaint filed in federal court in Michigan on Monday, the woman was allegedly raped by three basketball players one week after the team's Final Four loss to Duke in 2015. The woman, an 18-year-old freshman at the time studying to become a sports journalist, and the three basketball players are not named in the complaint.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of sexual assault allegations at MSU. The school has been at the center of the Larry Nassar scandal earlier this year, and ESPN reported that MSU's basketball and football programs mishandled reports of sexual assault since 2007.
In a statement released Wednesday, the university denied discouraging the woman from reporting the alleged assault, adding that the woman never revealed the names of the alleged assailants. The statement also contradicted several of the claims made in the lawsuit.
“We are deeply saddened when any student comes to us as the result of a sexual assault,” MSU Interim President John Engler said in a statement. “For the unfortunate cases where it does happen, MSU has the resources tools and expertise to respond.”
The lawsuit said that on April 11, 2015, when the woman and her roommate went to Harper's Bar in East Lansing. Shortly after midnight, members of the basketball team entered the bar.
One of the players bought the woman a drink and introduced her to his teammates. The men then invited her to a party at one of their apartments and falsely told her that her roommate was already on her way there, according to the complaint.
"At this point, Plaintiff was having a hard time holding on to her glass even though she had not had a lot to drink," the complaint reads.
Once they got to the apartment, the woman "was feeling discombobulated. She tried to send a phone text, but she could not control her thumbs to formulate a text," the lawsuit said. She began to think that maybe she had been drugged.
According to the complaint, one of the players pulled the woman into a bedroom and told her "you are mine for the night," according to the lawsuit.
The woman began to feel uncomfortable, the complaint states, and was able to leave the bedroom and head back into the living room.
Soon after, another basketball player offered to show the woman his basketball memorabilia, according to the lawsuit, and took her into a bedroom.
She "was forcefully thrown face down on the bed, held in place so she could not move, while [the basketball player] raped Plaintiff from behind," according to the complaint. "Plaintiff was crying, she could not move, nor could she speak. At no point did she consent to the sexual activity."
As soon as the basketball player finished assaulting her, the first player who told her she was "mine for the night" and a third basketball player allegedly came into the room, held her down, and raped her, according to the complaint
The woman does not remember anything else from that night, according to the complaint. When she woke up on the couch a few hours later, she called a taxi and went back to her dorm room.
Feeling distraught and traumatized in the days after the alleged assault, the woman visited the Michigan State Counseling Center and reported the incident to a counselor.
When she told the counselor that the alleged attackers were three MSU athletes, the lawsuit states that the counselor's demeanor changed. The counselor told the woman that she needed another person in the room with her.
Another staff member came into the room and the two counselors told the woman that her two options were to either file a police report or deal with the aftermath of the rape on her own, according to the complaint
The staffers then “made it clear to Plaintiff that if she chose to notify the police, she faced an uphill battle that would create anxiety and unwanted media attention and publicity as had happened with many other female students who were sexually assaulted by well-known athletes,” the lawsuit reads.
The staffers then advised the woman they had seen many cases with "guys with big names," and that the best thing for her to do is "just get yourself better" — implying it was not in the woman's best interest to report the incident to authorities, according to the complaint.
The woman was told that "if you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish," the complaint states, adding that the staffers did not advise her to seek STD or pregnancy testing and did not inform her of her option to report the incident to the school's Title IX office.
A spokesperson for MSU confirmed that the woman visited the counseling center in April 2015, but said records show she received appropriate care and relevant information for a rape victim.
“We have not found any evidence or indication that she was discouraged in any way to make a Title IX complaint or a complaint to the police department. On the contrary, the student said she was then too distraught to discuss her circumstances.” MSU said in a statement.
According to MSU it wasn’t until the woman’s father contacted his daughter’s academic advisor in October 2015 that the school learned the woman was allegedly sexually assaulted. The academic advisor then notified MSU police about the incident.
MSU police attempted to contact the woman, the university said in a statement, but she did not respond to them. Police also sent her an email outlining the resources she had at her disposal including counseling treatment and speaking to the TItle IX office, according to the statement.
The woman's lawyer did not immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment on MSU’s statement.
Following her meeting at the counseling center, the woman felt discouraged and frightened and decided not to report the rape to law enforcement, according to the lawsuit. She withdrew from classes that semester and, according to the lawsuit, changed her major upon her return.
According to MSU, acting on the counselor’s suggestion, the woman visited the Sexual Assault Program unit on campus and participated in group counseling sessions. She also made an appointment with a sexual assault program therapist that she did not show up for, the university said.
Read the lawsuit:
Read MSU's response:
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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