LSU President William Tate IV responded Friday to reports that the university — among several other institutions — failed to protect students from former graduate student Edouard d'Espalungue d'Arros, who continued to interact with students despite being charged with third-degree rape after a 2018 arrest. D'Espalungue later racked up rape and sexual misconduct complaints at LSU.
The Advocate | The Times-Picayune published an investigation Tuesday into how d'Espalungue was able to flee last year to his home country of France, after he was suspended from LSU for a year over a student's report that he raped her in September 2020. Her report was separate from another woman who also told police that d'Espalungue raped her in 2018, and whose criminal case has been in limbo since d'Espalungue absconded.
In total, at least seven women have complained about varying degrees of sexual misconduct on the part of d'Espalungue.
She spent two and a half years wondering if she made the right decision after the night that had come to eclipse the happier parts of her life.
Six of them filed a federal lawsuit late Monday against LSU, saying that the university failed to follow Title IX laws that prohibit sex-based discrimination and that require institutions to investigate reports of sexual misconduct.
"I read through every word of the painful and traumatic events expressed in recent news articles about allegations against a former graduate student," Tate wrote in a message midday Friday. "Given that this is a pending lawsuit, I am unable to respond directly to the accounts, which is incredibly frustrating."
LSU's initial response to the investigation was also that officials were reviewing the lawsuit, but noted that the university did not generally comment on pending litigation. Tate added slightly more Friday.
"First, while I was not here when these allegations occurred, I want these students to know that they matter to me. Every student matters to me," said Tate, who began the role as LSU president in July. The lawsuit says complaints of d'Espalungue's misconduct at LSU started in 2018 and stretched through 2020.
"Second, predators and their enablers will be held accountable — end of story," he added. "Third, I want to tell you what Title IX will look like during my tenure as your President. I see a campus community in which no survivor goes without the support and resources necessary to recover from the trauma of sexual assault or harassment."
Tate said LSU has "made incredible strides forward in a relatively short period of time" to beef up its Office of Civil Rights and Title IX. University officials have created better "trauma-informed responses," strengthened relationships with student and advocacy groups and eliminated "past policy gaps," he wrote.
"Those are just words, though," Tate said. "Paired with the tireless vigilance and dedication of our campus community, this really means that we will compassionately and empathetically serve our students and employees through building a culture of transparency, trust, and accountability that deters sexual violence in the first place and protects survivors when the unthinkable does occur."
LSU's campus has been embroiled in a scandal for nearly a year now over how campus officials have handled complaints of sexual misconduct, many involving athletes. Law firm Husch Blackwell's recent review of those cases found that LSU's Title IX office was woefully underfunded, and that the university failed to follow both federal laws and best practices in responding to complaints of sexual assault, domestic violence and more.
Attorneys for the six women who filed the lawsuit against LSU responded to Tate Friday, saying that universities must do better and that there would be less need for Title IX trauma support if there were less trauma.
“We thank President Tate for his statement, and invite him to sit down with us and other stakeholders as part of LSU’s Title IX initiative," said attorneys Elwood Stevens and Mimi Methvin in a statement. "It seems President Tate agrees that LSU has, at least in the past, reflected a wider culture in which women are not believed and predators are protected — by DA’s, police, the courts, and other institutions."
"His promises of improvement for the future are encouraging," they added. "However, President Tate inherited LSU’s past Title IX failures and cannot simply look to the future. Instead of dragging past victims through the courts for years, including our clients, we ask for honest dialogue, acknowledgment of their pain, and making restitution now."
Tigers Against Sexual Assault, an LSU student group, said in a statement Thursday that they were "once again disappointed to see survivors hurt by LSU, Louisiana law enforcement, and worldwide rape culture."
Six months ago, as lawmakers pushed for answers from LSU officials amid a sexual assault scandal roiling the flagship campus, several vented f…
The Advocate | The Times-Picayune's investigation into d'Espalungue featured a woman pursuing the criminal rape case against him, who asked to be identified by her middle name, Anne. A 24-year-old UL Lafayette graduate, Anne said she was both relieved and furious when she heard from the LSU students earlier this year who also reported rape, groping and sexual harassment from d'Espalungue.
Had her 2018 case been taken more seriously, she said, then perhaps the others could have been prevented. On the night she reported being raped on a religious retreat near Alexandria, Anne said, a sheriff's deputy talked her out of receiving a rape exam and tried to dissuade her from pursuing criminal charges. Even after d'Espalungue was arrested, her case stalled.
The Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office wanted her to testify before a grand jury rather than simply charge d’Espalungue, but the grand jury proceedings were rescheduled three times.
Even as Anne's case stalled, d'Espalungue blossomed in Baton Rouge. He launched an American Journal of French Studies, affiliated with LSU. He was named to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's international relations committee, and posted pictures on social media as he received recognition from Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. He won various awards.
Three more women have come forward to publicly blast LSU's handling of their complaints of rape and sexual harassment — two involving football…
The lawsuit says women were complaining about him at LSU throughout that period, but the complaints were never properly investigated. Anne, meanwhile, was never informed that d'Espalungue had been suspended from LSU in late 2020 over another student's report that he raped her.
After that second rape allegation, d’Espalungue petitioned a Rapides Parish judge for permission to travel home to France for Christmas 2020, with his attorney mentioning his many accolades, but not the recent suspension. The DA's office did not object to the request, and the judge agreed to it.
He has never returned.
France is among the countries that does not extradite its citizens to the U.S. when they’re accused of crimes on American soil.