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MSU student who says she was raped by three MSU basketball players speaks

April 11, 2019
Bailey Kowalski is pictured during a news conference at the East Lansing Public Library April 11, 2019.
Bailey Kowalski is pictured during a news conference at the East Lansing Public Library April 11, 2019. —
Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Editor's Note: This article contains graphic content.

Dropping her Jane Doe status, Bailey Kowalski has come forward with her story that in 2015, three members of the MSU men's basketball team raped her while she was a student. She spoke in East Lansing at a Marriott Hotel in a press conference to share her story. She was joined by her attorneys and family.

Kowalski filed her lawsuit against MSU in 2018 in U.S. District Court in Lansing. The court affidavit tells her story and cites repeated Title IX violations by the university where athletes have been the perpetrators.

"I am coming out today because I am no longer afraid. I'm empowered to do this. I have nothing to be ashamed of or embaressed of," Kowalski said at the press conference. "I know that there are others that exist and they too have been afraid. I want to be an example for them. These silent survivors matter and they're worth fighting for."

In her court affidavit, Kowalski said she was going to school to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming a sports journalist when she went to Harper's Bar, where members of the basketball team were hanging out on the night of April 11, 2015.

One of the members of the team invited Kowalski and John Doe 1, according to the court affidavit, lied to her, saying her roommate was already heading to the party.

Kowalski accepted a car ride to the party from John Doe 1 and 2. The court affidavit says the "party location" turned out to be John Doe 2's apartment.

Quickly realizing upon arrival her roommate wasn't there, Kowalski said in the affidavit she felt discombobulated. She had not had a lot to drink, but had trouble sending a text message.

This is when John Doe 1 pulled her into a bedroom and told her "you are mine for the night," according to the affidavit.

Kowalski had not indicated to any of the team she was interested in romantic relations. She was studying to become a sports journalist and therefore interested in getting to know the basketball team, the affidavit says.

Kowalski said in the affidavit she was then told by John Doe 2 she could see some of his basketball memorabilia and guided to his bedroom where she was forced down on to a bed and raped by him.

The affidavit says John Doe 1 and 3 took turns holding her down and raping her after John Doe 2.

"I was only 18 years old as a freshman when I was gang-raped and no one prepares an 18 year old to go through something like that," Kowalski said at the press conference. "At the time I needed help most I went to the Michigan State Counseling center where I was told during freshman orientation that I would find support. Instead I was intimidated, and I was told I was going to be dealing with some 'really big fish."'

Kowalski said she will never forget that phrase and that it was the main deterrent from her filing a police report because she was aware the athletes would have the university's backing and they would have better lawyers.

Traumatized, nine days after the gang rape on April 20, 2015 Kowalski reported her rape to the Michigan State University Counseling Center (MSUCC). According to the affidavit, when Kowalski said the rapists were three notable athletes, the counselor who she had been speaking to changed demeanors and said another staff member would have to be present for them to speak.

Kowalski was discouraged from reporting by MSUCC staff who told her if she chose to file a police report instead of dealing with the rape on her own, she would be put in the public spotlight and have to deal with the added anxieties attached to the exposure, the affidavit said.

She was told this happened before to other individuals, and it was better to get better by herself. Kowalski said in the affidavit at no time was she offered STD or pregnancy testing or any medical attention. She was not told she could report what happened to her to the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) and she was not notified of her Title IX rights.

"I want the system surrounding Michigan State University to change," Kowalski said at the press conference. "I want all people to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of ... the revenue they bring to the university."

Kowalski lived on campus and said in the affidavit she saw the players frequently, causing her flashbacks. She was never told she could have a no-contact order that would prohibit the three players from entering the dorm residence.

It took Kowalski 10 months to contact the MSU Sexual Assault program, before that time she had been admitted to Sparrow Hospital's outpatient psychiatric day-program for intensive psychiatric treatment, according to the affidavit. She withdrew from classes.

Kowalski changed her major and will graduate in May 2019.

"I'm looking forward to a lot of things after graduation, but I felt the need to speak out before I walked in May because I felt as though, if I didn't, that I would be neglecting other victims and leaving them behind," Kowalski said at the press conference. "For me this is not a basketball story. I did not chose who my rapists were. This is not about bringing attention to the Michigan State University basketball team."

After Kowalski filed her lawsuit in April 2018, MSU issued a statement to refute much of what she said in the affidavit.

"We have confirmed that, in April 2015, Jane Doe did visit MSU Counseling Center and that our records show that appropriate care and relevant information for a rape victim was provided to the student," the statement said. "We have not found any evidence or indication that she was discouraged in any way to make a Title IX complaint or a complaint to the police department. On the contrary, the student said she was then too distraught to discuss her circumstances. The counselor also suggested she visit the Sexual Assault Program unit on campus."

Kowalski said until recently she never spoke to the press and she was angry MSU took to the media to protect their assets.

"It was a scare tactic. If anybody else with similar allegations saw my lawsuit and was thinking about coming forward, that was (MSU's) chance to say, 'this is what will happen to you if you decide you want to do this, we're going to exploit you."

In the audience, members of the MSU community who have been impacted by ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar's sexual abuse sat in solidarity with Kowalski. Survivors Amanda Thomashow and Morgan McCaul spoke to her after the press conference.

Kowalski was asked by a reporter if she filed under Jane Doe because she thought she would be subject to the public critisisms the Nassar survivors faced. She said no, but individuals like Rachael Denhollander gave her strength to come forward.

"They influenced my ability to come up and stand here today and be a voice for those who have been silenced, because it took one person to come out with their name to let hundreds of girls know that they are not alone. In no way did anything that happened with the Nassar survivors ever scare me, it empowered me to do it. Although it wasn't the same crime, it wasn't by the same people, the feeling is all the same and how it impacts you as a survivor is all the same."

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