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Lesson from the Michigan Sex Abuse Case:

Campus Investigators Should Not Be Handling Felony Crimes

WASHINGTON / February 5, 2018 – In the wake of the January 24 sentencing of Lawrence Nassar on multiple charges of sexual abuse of young gymnasts, SAVE is calling for an end to the practice of campus investigators handling felony level crimes. Such persons lack the training, expertise, and independence necessary to conduct such complex investigations.

Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse. The seven-day hearing leading to Nassar’s sentencing brought more than 150 young women who publicly confronted him and spoke of their abuse (1).

According to an article published last week in The Atlantic, a credible allegation of sexual abuse was made to Michigan State University officials by former MSU student Amanda Thomashow in 2014 (2). She alleged that Nassar massaged her breasts and vaginal area during medical examinations to the point of sexual arousal. Such actions represent criminal activity under Michigan law.

But rather than referring the case to criminal investigators, the allegation was handled by the MSU Title IX coordinator, Kristine Moore. As part of its internal investigation, Moore sought out the opinions of four medical experts. All four had close ties to the university and Nassar.

At the conclusion of her interviews, Moore completed two reports. The first report, written for university administrators, cleared Nassar of the sexual harassment charge but concluded he was inflicting “unnecessary trauma” on his patients. The second report, provided to Thomashow, made no mention of the “unnecessary trauma” finding.

The Atlantic article concludes, “Because the 2014 investigation was conducted internally, conflict of interests may have influenced the outcome, allowing Nassar to continue his abuse for two more years.”

The MSU investigation came three years after the federal Office for Civil Rights issued a Dear Colleague Letter directing colleges to handle all allegations of sexual misconduct. Federal lawmakers have sharply criticized campus adjudications for shortchanging complainants and accused persons alike (3).

A recent Department of Education probe of MSU Title IX cases found that a “significant number of files” lacked investigative reports. In these cases, the federal probe couldn’t determine whether an investigation was completed or if MSU acted on the findings (4).

SAVE notes that investigations of alleged sexual offenses are fraught with complexities associated with the collection, analysis, and synthesis of sometimes conflicting information obtained from multiple sources. Many campus investigators only attend a weekend training course, leaving them woefully unqualified to handle such cases.

SAVE has developed a model bill, the Campus Equality, Fairness, and Transparency Act, which encourages the referral of campus criminal cases to law enforcement authorities (5).

Links:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-sentencing.html
  2. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/01/the-nassar-investigation-that-never-made-headlines/551717/
  3. http://www.saveservices.org/sexual-assault/lawmakers/
  4. https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/2016/12/15/michigan-state-sexual-assault-harassment-larry-nassar/94993582/
  5. http://www.saveservices.org/sexual-assault/cefta/

SAVE – Stop Abusive and Violent Environments – is working for effective and fair solutions to campus sexual assault and harassment: www.saveservices.org