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Michigan State Faulted For Handling Of Sexual Abuse Cases


Michigan State University's failure to protect students and athletes apparently extends well beyond the Larry Nassar scandal over sexual assault. The U.S. Department of Education says that in a new report. It shows Michigan State University repeatedly failed to report a variety of crimes as required. Michigan Radio's Kate Wells is covering this story. Good morning.


INSKEEP: And I guess we should note, this is not strictly about crime. It is looking at a failure by the University or University officials to report crimes that they heard about. What happened?

WELLS: Well, so yes, it is about reporting. But the report points out here as well that when it is a matter of students and athletes and even minors going to people who work for the university - coaches, administrators, trainers - and saying, in the case of Larry Nassar, hey, I think this is sexual abuse, if those people don't report it or don't even know that they should report it, you're basically able to let a serial sexual predator get away with it for 20 years. And that's - that's what this report found.

INSKEEP: Wow. And so we have the Larry Nassar example, this horrifying example involving many, many women and people who were even girls at the time. But does it go beyond Nassar himself, when we talk about crimes that were not reported?

WELLS: It does go beyond Nassar. This report not only finds new instances in which additional athletes that we didn't even know about until now had reported Larry Nassar to as high up as an associate athletic director as recently as 2016; it also finds that when there are other kinds of crimes growing - going on, like burglaries or robberies, MSU did not do what it's federally required to do, which is let the campus know that there could be an ongoing safety threat here.

INSKEEP: Oh, they should have at least - I don't know, what? - sent an email around and said, by the way, we have a security situation, which is something that happens in many workplaces.

WELLS: Yeah. In 2013, to give you an example, there was a rash of burglaries happening. And nobody could figure out how it was going on. Somebody was getting into, you know, campus dorm rooms that were locked. They didn't say anything. And it turns out later that the suspect had actually a master key set. And that's how this person was getting into rooms. But as, you know, each victim didn't know that this was ongoing - the police were just responding individually - there - there was no warning on campus.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to think about why it would be that various coaches or other campus officials would fail to report. I remember with the Larry Nassar case, there were people who just didn't quite believe that this esteemed and respected doctor could be doing the things that he was accused of doing. But that can't be the case all the time. What are some other reasons that people would not spread the word?

WELLS: These are great questions, Steve. And I think the report raises that specifically. The - you know, the most damning terms that they use in here are federal terms that sound really boring to us. But they're a big deal in terms of federal funding. Lack of institutional control, lack of capability to essentially follow the federal regulations. And this - this could have real, serious implications for Michigan State University, which gets $423 million a year in federal funding.

INSKEEP: I think you also said in passing earlier some people maybe didn't know. Is that really true? There were people who didn't know they were required to do something.

WELLS: So this report definitely finds that there was not a good system for letting, essentially, mandatory reporters know that the - A, they were mandatory reporters and how to - you know, what to do when that happens, when they get a report. But it even found - you know, we were talking about the incident in 2016. A former athlete calls up her strength and conditioning coach, says, Larry Nassar touched me inappropriately. That strengthening coach had been trained and told investigators he ignored his training and didn't report it.

INSKEEP: Kate, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

WELLS: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Kate Wells of Michigan Radio on a new Department of Education report on Michigan State University and failure to report crimes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and co-host of the Michigan Radio and NPR podcast Believed. The series was widely ranked among the best of the year, drawing millions of downloads and numerous awards. She and co-host Lindsey Smith received the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Judges described their work as "a haunting and multifaceted account of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s belated arrest and an intimate look at how an army of women – a detective, a prosecutor and survivors – brought down the serial sex offender."