College campuses should be safe places for young adults to get an education, socialize and plan their futures. Unfortunately, sexual assaults on university campuses occur. These might be assaults initiated by fellow students, or in some cases, by faculty or staff.
When a student is sexually assaulted or raped and the university finds out, the institution should take immediate action to protect the survivor and hold the abuser responsible. But there have been many cases in which universities have covered up this conduct.
Case in point: Larry Nassar, the ex-Michigan State University campus doctor, USA Gymnastics doctor and Olympic team doctor. He abused, raped and sexually assaulted hundreds of females over the course of his career.
Nassar worked at Michigan State University in the 1990s. One former athlete at the university recently filed a lawsuit detailing assault by Larry Nassar that occurred in 1992.
After suffering a knee injury as a field hockey player, she was instructed to go to Nassar for an exam. During the exam, he asked the athlete to remove her bra and fondled her breasts. He gave her a drink with a crushed-up pill added, which caused her to become groggy. At one point, she woke up to Nassar raping her. This assault was videotaped.
She reported the conduct to her coach, who went to the athletic director with the video. The athletic director made the coach resign and sign a nondisclosure agreement.
After finding out she was pregnant, and after suffering a miscarriage, the athlete later reported the rape to Michigan State police. She was told by the detective that his “hands were tied” and that she should report the rape to the athletic department. The athlete lost her scholarship.
Michigan State University failed to take appropriate action in 1992. The lawsuit mentions that because the university did not act, hundreds of young women went on to be assaulted by Nassar.
This is just one of hundreds of stories of the atrocious actions committed by Larry Nassar.
Why would a campus university fail to act and protect the survivor? There may be several reasons.
• First, universities and other institutions may simply want to avoid a scandal. These cases generate a lot of media attention, which is bad PR for a university.
• Second, getting thrust into the spotlight in negative way could cost the university or institution a lot of money. Lawsuits would be filed, and damage control would need to be done.
• Third, institutions may cover up sexual abuse because of power dynamics. Universities may want to preserve the “brand” more than protecting survivors. Brand damage could affect alumni or supporter donations, for example.
• Another reason for covering up may be personal relationships. When a close friend or colleague has been accused of sexual abuse, it can be difficult for an individual to report known behavior.
It is important to remember that it is never okay for a university or institution to cover up sexual assault or rape. Survivors deserve help and support when they decide to speak out. We are lawyers representing sexual assault victims.