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In suit, Michigan State student accuses 3 basketball players of rape

"Plaintiff was expressly told by ... staff that, 'if you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish.'"
Image: Michigan State
The Michigan State Spartans logo on a uniform during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Xfinity Center on Jan. 11, 2018 in College Park, Maryland.G Fiume / Getty Images

A Michigan State University student alleges in a new lawsuit that she was raped by three members of the men's basketball team in 2015 and then discouraged by a campus counseling center from telling police.

"Plaintiff was expressly told by ... staff that, 'if you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish,'" according to the complaint, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

The plaintiff, referred to as Jane Doe, also said the school did not notify her of her rights under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender and includes guidelines on sexual violence and harassment.

She was so "frightened," the suit added, that it took her almost a year before she went to the school's Sexual Assault Program for further help.

Michigan State fired back Wednesday, saying the allegations regarding how the university treated the student are "untrue."

The case is the latest involving MSU's sports program and follows the high-profile trial and conviction of Larry Nassar, the former gymnastics doctor at the school accused of molesting 265 women and girls over two decades.

MSU's president, Lou Anna Simon, resigned in January over the widening scandal at the Big Ten school — currently under a federal investigation for its handling of Title IX complaints.

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According to the filing, the then-18-year-old student said she was studying to be a sports journalist at MSU when she and a roommate went to a bar in East Lansing, where the campus is. After midnight, members of the men's basketball team arrived, the suit said, and one of them offered to buy her a drink and introduce her to other players. It was a few days after the team had lost to Duke in the Final Four.

One of the members then invited her to an apartment party and, "at this point, plaintiff was having a hard time holding on to her glass even though she had not had a lot to drink," according to the complaint.

Two of the players drove her to an off-campus apartment, where she said she expected to find her roommate as well. The student said she tried to send a text, but "could not control her thumbs."

Later, after being given water because she was "incredibly thirsty" and thinking "she might have been drugged," the lights went dark. Then, three players took turns raping her, according to the complaint. None of the players were named in the suit.

The student said she remembered waking up in the apartment a few hours later and taking a taxi back to her dorm room.

About a week later, after telling a friend about the experience, the student said she went to the Michigan State University Counseling Center. After telling a counselor the assault involved three members of the basketball team, the staffer brought in another person into the room and they told her she could file a police report but she "faced an uphill battle that would create anxiety and unwanted media attention," the complaint said.

The student said staff told her they had seen other cases involving well-known athletes and felt they were implying it would not be in her best interest to go to authorities. The complaint added that she was not advised to seek STD or pregnancy tests or get medical treatment.

Ten months later, she sought help from the school's Sexual Assault Program, and was prescribed multiple medications by a private clinic for depression, anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia, the suit said.

She did not file a police report or a no-contact order against the players through MSU, claiming in the suit that she was never informed of that option. She resumed classes in January 2016.

In a lengthy response, MSU said it confirmed the student went to a counseling center in April 2015, but denied she was discouraged to make a Title IX complaint or go to police.

"On the contrary, the student said she was then too distraught to discuss her circumstances. The counselor also suggested she visit the Sexual Assault Program unit on campus," the statement said.

The school added that the student's father did tell her academic adviser about what allegedly occurred, and the adviser did go to MSU police, as is mandated, but the police didn't have names or information about "possible assailants because Jane Doe never responded to their inquiry."

The athletics and basketball programs were also never notified about the student's sexual assault allegations, the university said.

John Engler, MSU's interim president, said in the statement that while officials are "deeply saddened" about any sexual assault, there are resources on campus available "24-7, no exceptions."

Karen Truszkowski, an attorney for the plaintiff, did not immediately respond to the school's response to the lawsuit.

In addition to Simon, former MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis resigned in January just hours before an ESPN investigation was published detailing a pattern of "denial, inaction and information suppression" involving sexual assault and gender discrimination cases linked to the football and basketball programs.

Leadership has also been accused of covering up or being slow to stop Nassar, 54, who was sentenced earlier this year to decades in prison.

The school has said new resources were instituted to combat sexual violence and acknowledged that "we have sometimes fallen short of our goal and the expectations of others."

The group "Reclaim MSU," an alliance of students and faculty calling for meaningful reform at the school, said the process remains "convoluted" for students who want to report instances of sexual assault and understand their rights.

"Every new story that comes out is shocking, but not surprising at the same time," said Natalie Rogers, an MSU student and spokeswoman for Reclaim. "In the past, we see how poorly MSU handles these types of things and at every turn makes it clear that they only care about the brand of Michigan State."