Report brings comfort to Sasha Menu Courey family, could spark change at MU

Monday, April 14, 2014 | 6:52 p.m. CDT; updated 7:10 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 15, 2014

COLUMBIA — The parents of Sasha Menu Courey now believe their daughter's death can spur significant change.

The family announced in a statement Monday that they are pleased with the findings of an independent investigation into whether MU employees acted consistently with university policy and the law in the Menu Courey case.

The former MU swimmer committed suicide in 2011 after she was allegedly raped by three football players in 2010.

The Dowd Bennett law firm reported its findings to the UM System Board of Curators Friday, saying MU didn't meet its responsibilities in reporting sexual assault cases through Title IX. UM System President Tim Wolfe expressed his condolences to the family and promised action from the university.

As of now, it is unclear what that action will entail.

"Although we cannot change the past, we hope that the lessons learned from the investigation will lead to positive changes for future athletes and students," the family said in the statement. "We hope to see a transformation of the processes that colleges and universities have in place to deal with students struggling with mental health issues and sexual assaults, whether they are athletes or not."

Lynn Courey and Mike Menu, Menu Courey’s parents, said in a Missourian interview March 29 that they now realize Menu Courey's alleged assailants might never be found or charged with a crime. A videotape made by one of the men that showed her alleged rape is missing, and the Columbia Police Department has contacted them to express that, they said.

"That’s probably the only hope: that somebody is able to come forward and give some information going back to that time," Mike Menu said by phone from Canada.

Now the family wants to make sure that people such as Menu Courey don’t fall through the cracks again. Her battles with borderline personality disorder and the alleged sexual assault pushed her past the breaking point but went largely unnoticed until it was too late.

The conversation about sexual assault and what’s wrong — not just at MU, but at large  universities across the country — needs to start in earnest, Lynn Courey said. If that discussion were to start in Columbia, then the family would be able to find some closure, she said.

"Since Sasha’s story came out, a few people (at MU) have contacted us, and some have tried to report it (sexual assault) and some are still afraid to report it," she said. "They still don’t feel comfortable to come forward. That is what we need to find: a way for them to be able to come forward, so they don’t feel judged for this."

"Until that changes, I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of this," Mike Menu said. "Quite likely, there’s a lot more things not working than working."

The Dowd Bennett report concluded there was no proof that any MU employee knew of Menu Courey’s alleged assault while she was alive, other than medical personnel, who were not able to provide that information to the athletics department.

The report also said the university should have acted in February 2012, when an article in the Columbia Daily Tribune noted that Menu Courey claimed in her diary that she had been raped by a member of the football team.

The latest the university should have acted, the report said, was in November 2012, when documents — found during an open records request by the family — showed Menu Courey believed she had been raped.

MU also did not have proper Title IX procedures in place for employees, the Dowd Bennett report said, which is counter to the U.S. Department of Education’s requirements under Title IX.

"It’s not just about the rules, but, if the rules are followed and things still don’t change, what can be done above and beyond the rules," Mike Menu said. "It’s about founding a new system that can really work."

Wolfe said Friday that the next step is to evaluate the current procedures, policies and practices at each of the four UM campuses related to sexual assault and mental health services. This is phase two of a three-phase plan put in place by Wolfe in February.

A task force created to evaluate sexual assault and mental health services at MU completed phase one of the plan on April 2. That consisted of creating an inventory of the available resources at MU.

MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin released a statement through the MU News Bureau on Friday summarizing how MU is working to enhance its policies and procedures regarding sexual assault and mental health issues.

Mike Alden, MU athletics director, has created a subcommittee of the task force to examine how the department handles incidents involving students, the chancellor's statement said.

The subcommittee will evaluate the available resources regarding sexual assault and mental health specific to the athletics department, spokesman Chad Moller said in an email on Monday.

Rick McGuire, MU director of sports psychology, will serve as chairman of the committee. Other members are Pat Ivey, associate athletics director for athletic performance; Mitzi Clayton, associate athletics director for compliance; Bob Bailey, assistant dean of the Law School; and Andrea Hayes, an independent prosecutor in Columbia.

According to Loftin's statement, MU is examining how the Office of Student Conduct handles sexual assault cases and is considering creating an independent committee with special training to handle cases involving sexual assault.

MU is working "to engage a respected firm specializing in risk management in this area," the release said.

"Already, we have identified areas for improvement in our sexual assault reporting policies and procedures, and we hope to implement them in the coming months," Loftin said in the release.

In addition to examining policies regarding sexual assaults, MU must examine its policies regarding alcohol and the enforcement of these policies, Loftin said.

Supervising editor Elizabeth Brixey and Mark Selig.

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