MSU Under Federal Investigation; Accused of Mishandling Sexual Assault Cases

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University is at the center of a federal investigation, accused of mishandling reported cases of sexual assault.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating. Department of Education spokesperson Jim Bradshaw told me two complaints are under investigation.

The federal department is holding focus groups at MSU to get a feel for the campus climate surrounding sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual violence.

University Spokesperson Kent Cassella issued a statement to FOX 17. It reads in part:

“MSU takes all allegations of sexual assault seriously and has a process in place to respond to such allegations.”

“We are cooperating fully with the investigation. MSU responded fully and appropriately to the incidents under investigation,” Cassella said.

The statement goes on to say that federal law and privacy concerns prevent MSU from fully discussing specifics. Cassella added, the university has “a comprehensive record of the actions we took that supports the university’s position that we acted appropriately.”

Junior Laura Swanson is with the university’s Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention Team.

“In a way, I’m happy that this is happening, because I feel like survivors don’t generally get the attention that they need,” Swanson said.

She said she’s worked with victims who feel their cases weren’t taken seriously by the university, and that there’s a pervasive stigma. She believes there’s a hesitance to call sexual assault what it is.

“I think that this speaks to a larger cultural issue about the way that universities deal with sexual assault,” she explained.

Colleges and universities must document and report crime statistics by law under the Clery Act. According to the most recent crime data published by the MSU Police Department in 2012 14 sexual assaults were reported on campus to university police.  In 2011, 13 sexual assaults were reported. In 2010, 11 were reported.

The MSU Police Department has a formal sexual assault reporting process outlined on their website.

The chart indicates that independent of the police department, the university does conduct its own investigation. There are several points made. One, the victim and the perpetrator must be affiliated with the university in order for MSU to investigate. Also, the school’s findings can result in university sanctions.

What happened in the situations under investigation is unclear.

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