(EAST LANSING, Mich.) — Four years after allegedly being gang-raped at Michigan State University (MSU) and then purportedly being urged by a school official to reconsider taking action because she would be “swimming with some pretty big fish,” a former student who had previously filed a lawsuit against the university came forward to identify herself publicly for the first time this week.
At a press conference on Thursday — Bailey Kowalski, who said she was a freshman in 2015 when she was allegedly gang-raped by three male MSU students — explained that she aimed to set an example for other survivors, whom she said she hopes “can come forward and they can find strength encouragement and a friend. I don’t want others to feel as isolated and distraught as I was.”
“I chose to come to Michigan State University,” Kowalski said at Thursday’s press conference. “I did not choose to be gang raped.”
The allegations are the latest accusations of alleged mishandling of a sexual assault by MSU officials, whose actions were also at the center of the case involving Olympic gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
Kowalski’s attorney Karen Truszkowski filed a Title IX federal lawsuit against the school last April, but at the time Kowalski was not identified — and referred to only as “Plaintiff” in the lawsuit. The school has filed a motion to dismiss the case, and that motion is pending. Kowalski and her lawyer have opposed the motion.
A school spokeswoman said in a statement provided to ABC News that “while MSU cannot comment on the specifics of an ongoing lawsuit, we applaud the courage of all survivors who come forward to tell their story as we continue to listen and learn from them.”
The statement goes on to “acknowledge it has been a challenge in the past for students, faculty, and staff to find resources” and that the university has “put more attention and resources into improved counseling services [and] created a dedicated office for Prevention, Education and Outreach within the Title IX office, and we are adding a SANE program to help those on campus who have been assaulted.”
The statement, from university spokeswoman Emily Gerkin Guerrant, used a common industry term, SANE, to describe sexual assault nurse practitioners.
The lawsuit says Kowalski met a player on the school’s prestigious basketball team at an off-campus bar, and later was invited to join him and his friends at a party at their off-campus apartment, having been told that her roommate was also attending.
At the apartment, Kowalski alleges, the basketball player and two of his other teammates gang raped her, and “at no time did she consent to the sexual activity.”
Upon returning to her dorm the next morning, she was “distraught, traumatized, and crying,” according to the lawsuit, and confided in her roommate and another friend, who, days later, convinced her to seek help at the school’s counseling center. In the lawsuit, she states that after telling a counselor what happened, the counselor said that a second person was needed in the room, without providing any further explanation.
“Comments were made by MSUCC staff to the effect of ‘we have had many other students in the same situation who have reported, and it has been very traumatic for them,'” the lawsuit states.
“Plaintiff was told by the MSUCC staff that they had seen a lot of these cases with ‘guys with big names’ and the best thing to do is to ‘just get yourself better’ implying to the Plaintiff that it would not be in the Plaintiff’s best interest to report the incident to law enforcement,” the suit states.
“Plaintiff was expressly told by MSUCC staff that ‘if you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish,'” the suit states.
While she identified herself in a New York Times article Wednesday, Thursday’s news conference was the first time that Kowalski addressed the media live.
She said that the decision to speak on Thursday is because it “marks the anniversary of my gang rape four years ago.”
“I’ve decided to come out for a few reasons. First, I’m about to graduate in May and throughout most of my college career this has been a heavy burden on me,” she said.
“I am no longer afraid… I have nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by,” she said.
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