Louisiana State University did too little to address sexual harassment and assault allegations against a French graduate student, even after learning of his arrest for rape in central Louisiana, a federal lawsuit alleges.
According to the lawsuit, LSU’s lack of response to the allegations enabled Edouard d’Espalungue d’Arros to go on to rape two LSU undergraduate students. In addition, another LSU undergraduate student, two graduate students, and a professor claim they were the targets of unwanted physical contact, harassment, or retaliation involving d’Espalungue.
LSU first learned of a rape allegation made against d’Espalungue by a University of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2018 and removed him as a graduate teaching assistant soon after. However, the university’s French department then hired him While there, d’Espalungue led numerous activities that allowed him to stay in contact with LSU students (and even high school students).
After the LSU Student Advocacy and Accountability Office investigated his involvement in a 2020 rape of one of the plaintiffs in the current case, the university finally suspended d’Espalungue.
The lawsuit is just the latest in a series of scandals that have plagued LSU regarding its treatment of sexual harassment and assault complaints. Earlier this year, an independent report by the law firm Husch Blackwell documented years of LSU’s mishandling of numerous rape, assault, and abuse allegations. In addition, the report concluded that LSU’s sexual misconduct reporting policies were “unclear, training was an afterthought, and the Title IX office, in particular, was not adequately staffed nor given the necessary independence.” The report also noted that the Title IX coordinator for the LSU system, “was overloaded, tasked with doing four jobs at once.”
LSU also faces a second and potentially even more significant federal lawsuit related to the way the university handles sexual assault complaints. The seven plaintiffs in the case, filed in April 2021, allege that they were sexually assaulted or beaten on the university’s campus, only to be failed by administrators after reporting the incidents. The lawsuit, which may reach class-action status, charges that LSU violated federal Title IX law and the university’s own policies when it “repeatedly engaged in discriminatory, retaliatory, and other unlawful actions” whenever students attempted to report rape, domestic violence, and other occurrences on campus.
Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools must adopt and publish grievance procedures for students to file sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual violence complaints. All procedures must provide for prompt and equitable resolution of sex discrimination complaints. However, many schools, including, LSU have fallen far short of what is considered compliance under the law. For example, there is no record that LSU ever conducted any investigation into the multiple complaints filed with the university’s Title IX office against d’Espalungue was ever conducted or any interim measures taken. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the U.S. Department of Education has conducted 502 investigations of colleges for potential mishandling of sexual violence reports since April 2011. Of those, 197 cases are resolved, and 305 remain open.
Although the authorities have issued an arrest warrant for d’Espalungue, whether anything will come of it remains unclear. After d’Espalungue was indicted by a grand jury for third-degree rape in February 2021, his arraignment was set for April. However, in the interim, he was granted permission to travel back to France to visit his family for the holidays and has not returned to the U.S.
France does not extradite its citizens to the U.S. when they are accused of a crime occurring on American soil. One notable example of this is Ghislaine Maxwell, who was denied bail in July 2020 following her arrest and charge for facilitating the sexual abuse of minors by long-time friend Jeffrey Epstein. As prosecutors argued, Maxwell is of significant means and has French citizenship. Should she have been allowed to abscond to France while on bail, she would be out of the reach of U.S. authorities and able to evade U.S. justice, precisely what d’Espalungue is doing right now.