Paula LavigneESPN Staff WriterClose
- Data analyst and reporter for ESPN’s Enterprise and Investigative Unit.
- Winner, 2014 Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award; finalist, 2012 IRE broadcast award; winner, 2011 Gannett Foundation Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism; Emmy nominated, 2009.
A former Michigan State sexual assault counselor who criticized how the MSU athletic department and football coach Mark Dantonio have handled sexual assault allegations involving athletes is pushing back against Dantonio’s characterization of her assertions as “completely false.”
Lauren Allswede, who left the university in 2015 over frustrations about how administrators handled sexual assault cases, told Outside the Lines in a story that published Friday that MSU administrators’ entire approach to such cases has been misguided for years, especially in cases involving athletes.
“Whatever protocol or policy was in place, whatever front-line staff might normally be involved in response or investigation, it all got kind of swept away, and it was handled more by administration [and] athletic department officials,” Allswede, who worked at MSU for seven years, told Outside the Lines. “It was all happening behind closed doors. … None of it was transparent or included people who would normally be involved in certain decisions.”
Allswede told Outside the Lines that about seven years ago, an attorney from the university’s general counsel’s department came to her office to try to reassure her that coaches were taking allegations of sexual violence seriously. Allswede said the attorney told her how Dantonio had dealt with a sexual assault accusation against one of his players: He had the player talk to his mother about what he had done.
“That did not reassure me at all,” Allswede said in the Outside the Lines report. “There’s no guarantee that that had any effect, any help, whatever.”
On Friday evening, Dantonio said accusations about him and his program mishandling sexual assault allegations, including dealing with one complaint directly, are “completely false.”
“I have received many questions and inquiries about [Friday’s] reports and latest reports. I’m here tonight to say that any accusations of my handling of any complaints of sexual assault are completely false,” Dantonio said. “Every incident reported in that article was documented by either police or the Michigan State Title IX office. I’ve always worked with the proper authorities when dealing with the cases of sexual assault. We have always had high standards in this program, and that will never change.”
Allswede wrote ESPN reporter Paula Lavigne an email Friday pushing back against Dantonio and MSU. Allswede said Saturday that its contents could be made public.
“How can Dantonio say that he cares about survivors and then in the next breath say every report made [Friday] is false?” Allswede wrote. “Everyone at MSU — Dantonio, Izzo included but not just them — needs to accept individual responsibility. Not just acknowledge a social problem or rape culture but reflect more personally on their role in the culture. How do they help prevent rape or support survivors? How do they enable rapists or harm survivors?”
Hollis resigned Friday as athletic director, two days after Outside the Lines again asked MSU spokesman Jason Cody and the university’s sports information department for interviews with multiple MSU administrators and athletic officials, including Hollis, basketball coach Tom Izzo and Dantonio. Outside the Lines told Cody of the main findings of its reporting. Cody declined to answer specific questions but issued a statement on Thursday, saying in part: “Over the past several years, we have dedicated significant new resources to strengthening our efforts to combat sexual violence. Every day, people across campus are working diligently on this critical issue. We acknowledge, however, that we have sometimes fallen short of our goal and the expectations of others. It is clear more needs to be done, and we are using every resource available to get better.”
Izzo said Friday evening that he did not have a chance to fully digest the report on a game day and declined to answer questions about specifics within it.
“As far as the reports [Friday], we will cooperate with any investigation going forward,” Izzo said. “That’s about all I have to say about it.”
Allswede singled out Hollis, former university president Lou Anna Simon, Dantonio and Izzo in her email Friday evening. “They don’t appear to see the women as anything more than a number, or anything other than a threat to their reputation,” she wrote.
She wrote that she has never met with Hollis, Dantonio or Izzo. “I haven’t talk[ed] to them, and that’s part of the problem,” she said, adding that they haven’t been witness to the emotional trauma she has seen among women who reported assaults.
“They haven’t been to a medical forensic exam, watched people jump when a picture is taken or wince when a swab is taken … They don’t see the shame these survivors feel — the visceral collapse, the shaking leg, the knotted tissues, and averted eyes,” she wrote.
She continued: “Dantonio and Izzo should tell us how they are weak. They should tell us how they are scared, that they’ve worried no one will ever love them again. That they have difficulty concentrating or carrying on lighthearted conversation. … And if you think that’s unfair, why do you think it is fair for survivors?”