When Sasha Menu Courey woke up one morning in February 2010, she had no idea that her life was about to change radically in a few short hours. Courey, a swimmer and straight-A student at the University of Missouri on a near-full scholarship, was sexually assaulted by a football player that night. According to CNN, she had gone home with a football player off-campus and had consensual sex. But after her consensual partner left, another football player “entered the room, locked the door and raped her.”
In the aftermath, her life began to fall apart in front of her eyes. Sixteen months later, she committed suicide. ESPN’s investigative series “Outside The Lines” searched for answers and shared a detailed report this week of how Sasha’s pleas for help managed to slip through the cracks.
Sasha initially kept the assault to herself, only writing about it in her journal, according to CNN. But over the course of the year, she told a rape crisis counselor, a campus therapist, a campus nurse, and two doctors. An administrator of the school’s athletic department also learned about the rape. Despite the many people who knew, the crime was never reported. While healthcare professionals are bound by privacy laws, the same is not true for campus administrators. In fact, the federal law Title IX requires schools to investigate any alleged sexual assault as soon as they are made aware of the incident and to notify the police, even if the victim has passed away. Perhaps if the assault had been reported by authorities as it should have been, Sasha would still be alive today.
According to the school’s athletic department:
“No one on the coaching staff … and no one in our administration nor any staff members were, to the best of our knowledge, ever told about this event while Sasha was alive. Had Sasha told any of our staff that she felt she had been assaulted, we expect that our staff would have reported it immediately to the proper authorities.”
Soon after the assault, Sasha began feeling hopeless. In April 2010, she checked herself into the campus hospital, reporting suicidal thoughts. She was determined to find her will to live and began attending therapy. She struggled with depression throughout the year, and that winter, her swimming coach asked her to stop attending team workouts, in what he says was an attempt to motivate her to continue with her counseling. He claims she’d stopped seeing her therapist by that time, and coupled with a back injury, wasn’t able to contribute much to team practices. Her campus medical records, however, show that she’d been consistently going to counseling, so it’s unclear where he got the impression that she’d stopped treatment. Her coach says he was unaware that she’d been assaulted, though just 15 days before she was asked to leave the team, she’d disclosed to her therapist for the first time what had happened to her.
Sasha took her forced leave of absence from the swim team to mean that she had been “kicked off,” and says so in a text message to her coach. He claims she misunderstood and was never officially cut from the team, but it doesn’t seem that he ever clarified this to her. Swimming had been her passion since she was a child and meant the world to her. She despaired at the thought of losing her athletic scholarship, and in March, she again checked herself into the campus hospital, where she stayed for 10 days. There, she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which doctors believe had been aggravated by the assault.
Alone at a local hotel shortly after her hospital release, she cut her wrist. Police were called and had to force a razorblade out of her hands that she’d been using to hurt herself. She shouted to the police, “The system failed me! The system failed me!”
She was hospitalized again, and while she was on suicide watch, staff member Meghan Anderson from the Missouri athletic department asked Sasha to sign a university withdrawal form. She was told withdrawing would help preserve her grades and leave with her with a better shot at returning to school when she felt better. One of her professors, however, told ESPN that she could have passed the two courses of his that she was taking. Sasha signed the form; even though she was considered legally incapacitated at the time of signing, the university processed her withdrawal.
Sasha moved to a specialized hospital in Boston, and wasn’t sure whether she was wanted back at school or whether her scholarship was still intact. In May 2012, while at the hospital, Sasha wrote in journal that she’d called Anderson and told her she’d been assaulted. Phone records confirm that she did call her, but Anderson denies that she told her about the assault.
Later that month, Sasha received a letter from Mizzou stating that she was not eligible for financial aid any longer because she’d withdrawn. This letter was not specific to her, it had bee sent to over a thousand students who’d withdrawn and was not referring to Sasha’s athletic scholarship. According to Missouri officials, they’d had plans to reinstate her financial aid if she chose to come back to school. Whether or not this was true, Sasha hadn’t been aware of it.
A few weeks later, while still hospitalized, Sasha managed to obtain hundreds of Tylenol pills. She took them, and died two days later of organ failure. She was only 20 years old. After her death, her best friend, Rolandis Woodland, discovered a tape recording of her assault. He confronted one of Sasha’s alleged assailants, and he admitted to taking advantage of her, all the while denying that it was against her consent.
According to Missouri officials, the detailed evidence that “Outside The Lines” dug up is not considered sufficient for them to bring to police or to investigate. On Sunday, the Mizzou’s president informed school officials that he would be hiring an independent counsel to investigate the school’s handling of the case. The school’s non-investigation has also been referred to the Columbia Police Department, placing it out of the hands of campus police. Said a spokesperson, “Our detectives will do the best they can with the investigation. It was not reported to us until now and we are almost four years behind.”
The system failed her, indeed. Sasha was certainly right about that.
[Image via CNN]