Former MSU sexual assault counselor says she never had a seat at the table
In an investigative report this weekend, ESPN brought attention to a number of previously unreported allegations of sexual misconduct within the Michigan State University football and basketball programs. The report also detailed how the university handled accusations of sexual assault against football and basketball players differently than it did for the rest of the student population.
ESPN reporters called Lauren Allswede a “key source." She worked as a sexual assault counselor at Michigan State University from 2008 to 2015 before she said she quit amid frustrations over how the administration handled sexual assault on campus.
Stateside’s executive producer Joe Linstroth spoke with Lauren Allswede in Lansing Sunday to get her reaction to what unfolded over the weekend. He first asked her about MSU football coach Mark Dantonio’s defiant response to an instance Allswede shared with ESPN regarding a football player accused of sexual assault seven years ago. Dantonio said, “Any accusations of my handling any complaints of sexual assault individually are completely false.”
Allswede said MSU deputy general counsel Kristine Zayko came to her office one morning about seven years ago to try to reassure her of all the things the school was doing to respond to allegations against athletes. She said Zayko told her, as an example, that Dantonio had a player proactively speak to his mother about an alleged assault.
Stateside did not immediately hear back from Zayko for a response.
In response to Dantonio’s claims of handling sexual misconduct “by the book,” Allswede said that more is needed than just following procedures.
“I think by the book and on paper, there’s a lot of Ts that get crossed and Is that get dotted,” she said. “It’s more about what’s happening behind the scenes that I think is important to address, too. What’s the tone that’s set even before an incident is reported? And not just are they responding once something happens, but are people having conversations to prevent it in the first place or beyond just a training at the beginning of the year every year?”
Allswede says her access to the university’s handling of sexual assault cases was restricted during her time at MSU.
“Part of the problem was that there were a lot of conversations that the sexual assault program was not allowed to be a part of,” she said. Every week, representatives from different campus arms such as Residence Life or General Counsel or Title IX investigators met to talk about what MSU was doing to respond to sexual assault.
“The people who were working with the victims in the sexual assault program weren’t at the table, weren’t having the conversation,” she said.
Though she’s disappointed in the university and athletic department in their handling of sexual assault, Allswede emphasized the issue extends to the criminal justice system.
Allswede says most people she worked with did not want to file police or university reports of sexual assault charges, but the ones who did rarely saw a conviction. In her seven years at MSU, Allswede remembers working with only one student whose sexual assault case was prosecuted and resulted in a conviction. She recalls two or three Lansing residents whose cases were prosecuted and also resulted in a guilty conviction.
“This is not just about the athletic department or about MSU but about a larger system,” she said. “We should be looking at the prosecutor’s office and different police agencies and their response and their investigation of violent crimes.”