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McCaskill Calls For Probe Into Sexual Assault/Suicide Case at Mizzou

(via Flickr/SenatorMcCaskill)

Updated 4:11 p.m, Mon., Jan. 27 with investigation by Columbia police.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, an alum of the University of Missouri and a former prosecutor, is calling on the university to investigate the alleged sexual assault of former Mizzou swimmer Sasha Menu Courey, who subsequently committed suicide.

McCaskill, D-Mo., issued a statement over the weekend, with her staff saying her action was in response to a report by ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" about the incident. The alleged assailants were members of the Mizzou football team. No arrests were made.

University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe also has called for a probe into the matter, which has touched off controversy about how the university handled the incident and its aftermath.

McCaskill is the first member of the Missouri congressional delegation to comment on the incident and on the allegations made by Courey’s family. McCaskill also has been at the forefront of the congressional effort to force the U.S. military to be more responsive about allegations of sexual assault.

Said McCaskill regarding the Courey controversy:

“As a mother of a daughter in college, my heart breaks for this young woman and her family. We must create a safe space for all women to report sexual assault to law enforcement — and no matter who the alleged perpetrator is, there must be a thorough and professional investigation. There are real questions about why none of that happened in this case, and it's important the university figure out why and what must be done to fix it.”

In a letter to the chancellors of the four campuses in the university system released on Sunday, Wolfe said he would ask the Board of Curators to hire outside independent counsel to investigate Mizzou’s handling of “matters related to Ms. Courey. Such an independent review will be beneficial to all our campuses so that we can determine if there were any shortcomings with respect to MU’s handling of this matter and, if so, ways in which to improve the handling of such matters in the future.”

Wolfe’s concern over the situation, which he expressed after the Columbia campus had tried to address the growing controversy with several explanations, goes beyond Mizzou.

“I am directing each of you,” he told the chancellors, “to lead a comprehensive review of your campuses' respective policies, training and procedures concerning the prevention and reporting of sexual assaults and the availability of mental-health services. We must ensure that each of our campuses has the necessary resources to educate the campus community about sexual assault and prevention, as well as an effective process for reporting such incidents, plus adequate capacity to address mental health issues among our students, faculty and staff.

“Once we have done a complete examination of our policies and procedures on our campuses and identified any areas of need, I am pledging to make available any additional resources, including funding from the UM System budget, to our campuses to ensure that we are addressing this issue in the appropriate manner.  As leaders of our campuses, I am asking you to also volunteer new ideas and new investments that are necessary to ensure the safety of our students.”

Saying that the university has to set an example in “addressing sexual assault and mental illness and prompting a campus culture of respect,” Wolfe said that he wanted to make sure the school is doing everything it can to protect students.

“The safety and security of students on our four campuses (are) an absolute priority for the University of Missouri System,” his letter said, “and we take the issues of sexual assault and mental illness very seriously. My thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and teammates of Sasha Menu Courey.”

Monday afternoon, the Columbia, Mo., police department officially launched an investigation into the alleged sexual assault of Courey.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.