Michigan State University activists protest handling of rape charges

By Megan Spencer

East Lansing, Mich.

In late August a woman reported being sexually assaulted in a dorm room by two members of the Michigan State University Spartans men’s basketball team. Despite the survivor reporting the assault, a police report being filed, and the police recommending the pursuit of criminal sexual conduct charges against the assailants, Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III decided not to press charges.

Students protest during ‘Midnight<br>Madness’ at MSU’s Breslin Center.
Students protest during ‘Midnight
Madness’ at MSU’s Breslin Center.
Photo: Coalition Against Sexual Violence

Dunnings initially concluded there was not enough evidence to prosecute the crime, though he has since gone as far as to declare that force or coercion did not occur, and thus “no crime” was committed. (Michigan Messenger, Sept. 29)

In addition to facing no legal consequences, the assailants still reside in university housing, attend classes at MSU, and remain on the basketball team. The circumstances indicate these individuals have committed rape, yet they face no repercussions for their actions.

In response to this assault, the prosecutor’s inaction and unwillingness to deliver any justice, and the university’s silence on the matter, a multinational group of concerned students at MSU united to form the Coalition Against Sexual Violence.

The university administration has failed to suspend or expel the players from MSU, and has not even released a statement condemning the assault. In addition, Residence Life, the department in charge of on-campus housing, has failed to remove the players from their dorm room, further endangering women at MSU. Neither the director of MSU’s Athletic Department, Mark Hollis, nor men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo has commented publicly on the assault.

By failing to take action, punish the assailants or respond to this act of violence, MSU’s administration, Residence Life and the Athletic Department send the message that students can commit acts of sexual violence against other students without consequence. It also sends the message to survivors of sexual assault that their experiences are not significant to administrators, prosecutors and others with authority, thus discouraging future survivors from reporting assaults.

The coalition has met several times, with 15 to 20 people showing up to meetings. In addition, the coalition’s Facebook page has drawn more than 400 members. Coalition activists have been harassed and followed by police regarding leafleting and other visibility activities on campus. One member was threatened with conspiracy charges, and other activists have been followed by police while running errands both on and off campus. The coalition is outraged that the police are using scare tactics to try to discourage students from being activists against sexual violence.

Activists not ‘fans of rape’

Coalition members attended MSU’s homecoming parade on Oct. 15 and held posters that read, “Prosecute Rape,” “I’m not a fan of rape,” “Shame on Izzo — No Rape!” and “Rape is a crime no matter who you are!”

The protesters chanted as Izzo and the men’s basketball team rode by on a float. One of the basketball players held up his middle finger to the protesters and shouted to one of the women, “F*ck you, B*tch.” Several other players laughed and took pictures of the protestors with their cell phones.

Later that night, a dozen or so coalition members held a demonstration outside the Breslin Center, where thousands of people waited in line for the “Midnight Madness,” an annual event that kicks off basketball season. The arena was filled to its capacity of over 16,000 people, with several thousand more being turned away.

During the event, which was nationally televised on the Big Ten Network, four women in the coalition unfurled two banners. One of them read, “Expel Rapists,” and the other read, “Rape Is a Crime.” An angry fan rushed to where two women were holding one of the banners and attempted to violently pull it away from the demonstrators.

A tug-of-war ensued between the demonstrators and the fan, but after several seconds the women were able to regain control of the banner and re-drop it over the upper bowl of the Breslin Center.

After several minutes, demonstrators were approached by Breslin Center staff members and instructed to let go of the banner. They were escorted by police outside of the arena and threatened with trespassing charges if they were to return. Angry fans yelled profanities as the demonstrators left the Breslin Center.

The coalition has contacted the MSU President LouAnna K. Simon, in addition to other administrators, as well as directors of Residence Life and the Athletic Department, and men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo, and demanded a meeting. Activists want explanations as to why none of these departments have opened independent investigations regarding the assault. President Simon responded to the concerns of the coalition by promising they would be contacted by MSU administrators regarding a meeting. This has yet to happen.

The coalition will continue to have actions to raise awareness about this case and to pressure the prosecutor’s office, MSU administrators and MSU Athletics to speak out and act against sexual violence.

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