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University of Missouri president wants probe of rape claim response

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - The University of Missouri's president called on Wednesday for an independent counsel to investigate how school officials responded to the alleged 2010 rape of a student on the female swim team who later committed suicide.

The Missouri case comes in the wake of growing concern about sexual assaults in schools and in the military. Last week, President Barack Obama announced the creation of a White House task force to look into the problem of sexual assaults on campus.

University president Tim Wolfe said at a news conference that he wants to determine if the university acted properly in matters related to Sasha Menu Courey. The student killed herself in 2011, about 16 months after the alleged off-campus rape. She was 20.

"An independent counsel gives us the best possibility of having a true understanding of events that surround this tragic situation," Wolfe said.

Wolfe said he would ask the university's board of curators to hire outside attorneys following a news report by sports network ESPN that officials learned of Courey's rape allegations in 2012, but took no action. The ESPN report did not name Menu Courey's alleged attacker or attackers.

In February 2010, Menu Courey said that, following a night of drinking, she went home with a former university football player and had consensual sex, according to the ESPN report.

Later that year, she told a rape crisis counselor and wrote in her journal that after the consensual sex, her partner left and another former football player entered the room, locked the door and raped her, ESPN reported.

Wolfe said he directed chancellors on university campuses across Missouri to examine their policies and seek ways to best protect their 75,000 students.

"When you look at the statistics on mental health and sexual assaults, we have a systematic problem across the United States," Wolfe added.

Police in Columbia, Missouri, said on Monday they were investigating the case. Until last week, police had received no report of the alleged rape, a police statement said.

The university previously said in a statement that officials first became aware of the rape allegations in late 2012 when reviewing a transcript of a crisis hotline chat between Menu Courey and a counselor.

Those records were among thousands of pages of documents the university released to Menu Courey's parents, Michael Menu and Lynn Courey, at their request, ESPN reported.

The university asked her parents in a January 2013 letter for any information about people with knowledge of the incident, and if they wanted further investigation, but got no response, university officials said in a statement.

Privacy laws barred health personnel from sharing the rape allegations at the time without Menu Courey's permission, it said.

Wolfe declined comment on the police investigation on Wednesday because it is in progress.

Michael Menu and Lynn Courey, who live in Toronto, set up a foundation to help people with borderline personality disorder, an illness from which the young woman suffered. In a statement on the foundation's website they said they welcomed an independent investigation by the university.

"The system failed Sasha and we cannot let this happen to anyone else," they added.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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