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.
Had she not come forward, she would not have had to endure questioning by a detective who wondered how she could possibly laugh as she told them she was raped. She would not have had photos of herself enjoying a vacation used against her in a court hearing. She would not have been on edge at college, unable to focus each time a new chapter of the criminal case opened.
“When I left school, I felt like he won,” said Anne, 24, of Lafayette, who asked to be identified in this story by her middle name to protect her privacy. “When I ditch my spiritual life, avoid relationships, hesitate to commit to jobs … I feel like he wins.”
By March of this year, it seemed as though her rape case against Edouard d'Espalungue d'Arros, 31, was in free fall. Anne had filed a police report on the night in September 2018 that she said d'Espalungue raped her, while they were on a religious retreat in Rapides Parish.
She was a senior at UL Lafayette at the time, hoping to become a mental health counselor. He was a graduate student at LSU, a French national studying French literature. Police arrested him on a count of sexual battery after her initial report, rebooking him a few days later on a second-degree rape count.
He posted bail of $75,000 and was released from jail on Oct. 5, 2018.
But over the next two-plus years, though he stood accused of a serious crime, d'Espalungue seemed to grow in power and influence at LSU and throughout Baton Rouge. And each institution that had an opportunity to stop his predatory behavior — police, prosecutors, judges and LSU officials — dropped the ball, sometimes on multiple occasions.
He was appointed to East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s International Relations Committee. He was reelected as a senator in LSU’s student government. And he became vice president for programs at the LSU International Cultural Center.
He launched a popular American Journal of French Studies, soliciting contest entries from high school French students across the state. He held French cinema nights at LSU. His lawyer mentioned all of these achievements while asking a Rapides Parish judge to allow d’Espalungue to travel out of state on weekends while his rape case was pending.
Anne, meanwhile, was struggling. She had graduated with a bachelor’s degree, but she pulled out of a master’s program. She opted to teach dance classes and babysit instead.
She avoided Mass because the smell of incense brought her back to being pinned on the concrete. She struggled to trust authority figures and institutions. She was disgusted when she saw photos of d'Espalungue interacting with high school girls at her Lafayette alma mater to promote the Journal of French Studies.
Rather than simply charge d’Espalungue, the Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office wanted Anne to testify about the rape before a grand jury. But the grand jury meeting was rescheduled three times.
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And then d’Espalungue disappeared.
Rapides Parish Judge Lowell “Chris” Hazel granted a petition for d'Espalungue to go home to France for Christmas 2020, with no objection from the District Attorney’s Office.
He has never come back.
On Feb. 23 this year, Anne finally went before the grand jury, explaining in excruciating detail how he held her down and forced himself on her, how she remembered the look of the trees above her that night. The panel charged d'Espalungue with third-degree rape. But with the assailant in France, it wasn’t clear what would happen next.
By then, LSU was deeply embroiled in a scandal over how campus officials had handled complaints of sexual misconduct, many involving prominent sports figures, in recent years. Anne had hired Mimi Methvin, a retired federal magistrate judge, amid concerns about how the DA was handling her case. And Methvin got an email from an LSU student that caused Anne to see her case in an infuriating new way.
A chorus of boos rang down as Joe Alleva climbed the stairs in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The student had some startling information: It appeared that d’Espalungue was a serial abuser.
“I am actually the student that was involved in Edouard’s suspension from LSU as a result of a Student Advocacy and Accountability case I pursued against him for an off-campus sexual assault,” the student wrote. “Also, if it is allowed, and your client would find it beneficial to talk to the other victims of this man, I have CC’ed the two other women with their consent that have been victims of Edouard in different capacities. We’re all current students at LSU.”
After reporting rape on retreat, early response bungled
When Anne met d'Espalungue in 2018, she was charmed by his French accent. And she wanted to make sure that, as an LSU student, he did not feel left out at a retreat being hosted by UL Lafayette’s Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Student Center.
The group was at a retreat center 20 minutes south of Alexandria, where they attended talks on Catholicism and sat around a bonfire the second night. As Anne got up to leave, she said d'Espalungue joined her, initially steering her toward the woods until she said no. He led her to a dock instead, where they sat on a bench and he kissed her.
It was OK at first, though she was frustrated that he kissed her while she was in mid-sentence. But then he wouldn’t stop. As she writhed away, she said, he grabbed her ponytail, pinned her head down and tried to reach into her pants.
“I learned very quickly that he was strong,” she said.
She was eventually able to roll out from under him, and she said she had to get back to the retreat center. But as she tried to walk back, she said he pulled her down to the concrete. Under his weight, she said she shook, cried and begged him to stop.
“He pulled down my pants anyway, and he did it,” she said. She stayed on the concrete as he got up.
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She vowed d'Espalungue would pay a price for raping her.
At around 1:30 a.m., the Rev. Bryce Sibley — who was running the retreat — got a call telling him to come to the main building. Anne, whom he had known for years, had made her way back, and she was distraught.
“I had never seen anything like this,” Sibley said. “She was on the floor, almost in a fetal position, wailing and howling.”
Sibley called the police. When Rapides Parish sheriff’s deputies showed up, Anne was giggling with friends. That’s a common response to any type of trauma, especially sexual assault, said Morgan Lamandre, the legal director of the state’s Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response center.
But Anne said her laughter seemed to make Deputy Clayton Webb take her less seriously. She wonders if he would have treated her differently had her response been different.
“We see this often where law enforcement says, ‘A survivor's not acting like a victim,’” Lamandre said. “But the problem with that misunderstanding is it’s not backed up by what the science tells us happens to a victim when they face a traumatic event. There’s no normal reaction to an abnormal event.”
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Webb advised Anne against moving forward with a criminal case, an interaction recorded on his body camera. He told her it would take three to four years. He also warned her against getting a rape exam, saying nurses would “comb through every hair on your body,” and that with d'Espalungue acknowledging sex but claiming it was consensual, the rape kit would be pointless.
“He really convinced her not to do a rape kit,” said Sibley, who was there. “It was handled poorly, particularly in not showing care for the victim and approaching this in a compassionate and tender way.”
Anne ignored Webb’s advice and said she wanted to press charges, and Webb arrested d'Espalungue on a count of sexual battery. Then a different detective, Cainan Baker, took over Anne’s case. He secured warrants for d'Espalungue’s DNA, backpack and journal, which resulted in d'Espalungue being rebooked on a more serious charge. Anne said Baker was one of few people who seemed willing to push her case forward.
Webb has since died. Tommy Carnline, chief of staff for the Sheriff’s Office, said he could not comment on the office's handling of the case because the investigation is ongoing, but said officials are hoping for “a conviction for the charges he was arrested for.”
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News of d'Espalungue’s arrest reached Baton Rouge, and he was yanked from teaching freshmen-level French classes. But he stayed in touch with students he had previously taught. He also started a journal affiliated with and funded by LSU, where he worked with undergrads and reached out to high school students for essay competitions. Sexual misconduct complaints about him began to roll in.
Six women at LSU allege sexual misconduct by d’Espalungue, including two rapes
After d’Espalungue’s arrest in Anne’s case, two more LSU undergraduates say he raped them — one in 2019 and another in 2020. The claims are outlined in a new lawsuit, in which Methvin represents six women with Title IX claims against LSU. The suit describes d’Espalungue as a “charming, handsome, and successful serial sexual predator,” though he has not been criminally charged in any case aside from Anne’s.
D'Espalungue did not return messages for this story sent through channels listed for him in court filings, through the American Journal of French Studies and on social media. A French attorney who said he represented d'Espalungue in recent court filings also did not return phone messages and emails.
An LSU spokesman said Tuesday that university officials had just become aware of the lawsuit and were still reviewing it, but noted they generally do not comment on pending litigation.
Alexandra Reyes thought she had an airtight case of sexual misconduct for LSU to investigate.
None of the plaintiffs alleging misconduct from d’Espalungue are named, and instead are described as Jane Does 1 through 6. Each of the six described unsettling — if not always illegal — interactions with d’Espalungue in the lawsuit, filed late Monday in federal court in Baton Rouge. The same group has filed a similar lawsuit in state court.
An LSU French Studies professor texted LSU Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Troy Blanchard over the course of a week in late October 2018 to alert him that four students had complained about sexual harassment by d’Espalungue. While those complainants did not allege rape, the students described d’Espalungue as “very aggressive.” The professor, Jane Doe 6, said Adelaide Russo, chair of the French department, had been dismissive of the complaints.
Jane Doe 6 also met with a Title IX representative, who later wrote that “while we felt that the situation did not rise to the level of requiring an investigation, efforts should be made to prevent the situation from escalating,” according to the lawsuit.
Jason Hicks, an associate dean under Blanchard, also met with d’Espalungue and Russo, telling them that d’Espalungue should not be in the classroom, the lawsuit says. They responded that he was “not leading anything” on campus, but that he was helping Russo with research projects, the lawsuit says. But the same day, d’Espalungue emailed undergraduates about a film screening.
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Over the next several months, two graduate students and Jane Doe 6 repeated their complaints to higher-ups. Jane Doe 6 emailed LSU’s Title IX office on Dec. 15, 2018, reporting that Russo had called a meeting about d’Espalungue with faculty and staff, “informing all that he is innocent before asking if we have concerns or issues feeling comfortable.”
Russo also emailed faculty and graduate students in 2020 telling them that they should bring any Title IX complaints to her, and that she would decide whether to file them with LSU’s Title IX office — a violation of LSU policy, according to the lawsuit.
Little happened in response to the complaints about Russo. She referred comments for this story to LSU’s spokesperson. Other LSU employees did not respond to messages for this story.
D’Espalungue, meanwhile, allegedly continued to prey on victims and moved beyond harassment. One of the undergraduates who he used to teach, Jane Doe 2, says in the lawsuit that he raped her on Jan. 31, 2019. She did not report the rape to law enforcement or LSU because d’Espalungue “then persuaded her to have a continuing relationship for several months,” according to the lawsuit.
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On Feb. 28, 2019, LSU Title IX employees responded to a complaint that d’Espalungue “was still part of the public face of French studies even though he was not supposed to be serving in areas where he may have contact with other students.” Deputy Title IX coordinator for employees Lindsey Madatic wrote in an email that day that she checked with Hicks and Blanchard, and confirmed that d’Espalungue “was (and is still) not performing any sort of service where he may have contact with other students.” Madatic also said Hicks and Blanchard had appropriately addressed student concerns about d’Espalungue in 2018.
But according to the lawsuit, just two months later, another undergraduate who worked at the journal alleged that d’Espalungue had forcibly kissed her and groped her. She did not report it to Title IX until the next year, when she sent more than 50 pages of text messages to LSU’s Title IX office. In one, d’Espalungue told her, “you have beautiful boobs.” In another, he explained he was trying to get nude photos of women from across the state.
“Trying to do the entire map of Louisiana,” the message said, according to the lawsuit. “You know like board game. A flag on every district.”
Around the same time he allegedly groped the undergraduate from the journal, d’Espalungue presided over an awards ceremony for the journal involving high schoolers at LSU’s French House.
“During the ceremony, d’Espalungue expressed to at least one witness his sexual and romantic interest in one of the high school essay contestants,” the lawsuit states. “Within a few weeks d’Espalungue had seduced her into a sexual relationship which lasted on and off for at least several months.”
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On Sept. 6, 2020, d’Espalungue went on a picnic with a 20-year-old undergraduate whom he had recently helped to fix a flat bike tire. She asked to go home after he kept touching her leg.
“Instead of driving to her apartment, however, he drove to his own apartment, where he raped her,” the lawsuit says.
It was that student — Jane Doe 1 — whose complaints finally prompted LSU to take action. She received a rape kit and reported the findings to LSU’s Title IX office. She also endured an hourslong Student Advocacy and Accountability appeal hearing during which she “had to endure questioning and cross-examination by her attacker, and her advisor was not allowed to speak,” the lawsuit said.
An LSU panel found d’Espalungue responsible for sexual misconduct and endangerment and suspended him from campus for a year. Though institutions are mandated to report sexual assault involving minors to law enforcement, it’s generally up to adult survivors themselves whether they want to report their cases to police, Lamandre said. It does not appear that Jane Doe 1 took her case to law enforcement.
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LSU’s Title IX office has weathered a storm of criticism over the past year over allegations that the university has failed to properly investigate claims of sexual assault and other misconduct on campus. The lawsuit blames those systemic failures for LSU’s inability to stop d’Espalungue.
LSU’s Title IX office fielded five other complaints about d’Espalungue in November 2020 from the various women involved in the lawsuit “about harassment by d’Espalungue and endangerment of other female LSU students and high school students.” They came forward with new evidence — including 50 pages of text messages — while LSU was taking up the Jane Doe 1 case. But those complaints were closed without investigation, according to the lawsuit.
Fleeing the country
During this time, Anne’s case continued to languish. She and Methvin, her lawyer, had no idea that d’Espalungue had been suspended from LSU, let alone racked up a long list of sexual misconduct complaints there.
In asking the court to allow d’Espalungue to travel to France for the holidays last year, d’Espalungue’s lawyer, Mike Small, mentioned his client’s high GPA, thesis award and four previous out-of-state visits.
Prosecutors from Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell’s office raised no objection. Brian Cespiva, the assistant district attorney over the case, did not respond to requests for comment.
Small, a well-known Alexandria attorney, did not mention the case against d’Espalungue at LSU. In an interview, Small said he was unaware of it.
“I wouldn’t have motioned for him to travel had I the slightest doubt that he wouldn’t return,” Small said. “I wouldn’t have put myself in that position, the judge in that position, the DA in that position. At the time I filed the motion, I felt very comfortable that he would return.”
Others saw the writing on the wall immediately.
“When I found out that they allowed him to go to France for Christmas, when I heard that, I said, ‘He is not coming back,’” Sibley said. “Why did that happen? Is it just a lack of common sense? Is it something else involved? It was very strange.”
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By February, it seemed obvious that d’Espalungue was staying put. In a Feb. 11 hearing, Small read from an affidavit from a French attorney, Pierre Hourcade, saying he witnessed d’Espalungue try to return to the U.S.
Hourcade claimed that “Mr. D’Espalungue was informed by the Marshal that he could no longer board the return flight from France because his visa had been revoked,” the court records say. Hourcade did not return messages and emails for this story.
Methvin believes d’Espalungue only pretended to try to return to the U.S. using his student visa — which had been revoked because of his sexual misconduct at LSU — and that he could have returned to the country on a tourist visa if he wanted to. France is one of many countries that does not extradite its citizens to the U.S. when they’re accused of crimes on American soil. Famed film director Roman Polanski, notably, remains free more than 40 years after he fled to France in 1978 following his conviction in a child rape case in the U.S.
Anne and her family filed a federal lawsuit against d’Espalungue in February, and she testified against him that month before the grand jury in Alexandria, where he was indicted on a charge of third-degree rape. Small dropped him as a client, and Hazel — the judge — revoked d’Espalungue’s bond and issued an arrest warrant March 25.
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But for Anne and her allies, it was too little, too late. She was relieved she was not the only one who had come forward, but she was also furious. Had her case been taken seriously from the start, she reasons, the pain of the others could have been prevented. When she met another survivor of a rape by d’Espalungue, she was reminded of herself.
Hearing the stories from the other women did not heal her pain. She’s uncertain if anything will. She said no amount of justice, “even though there will probably be none,” will give her closure, either.
But the others’ stories — and the fear that d’Espalungue’s behavior will continue, regardless of what country he’s in — have pushed her to press on.
In a recent self-reflection, she wrote that the heaviest pressure she carries “is the weight of all the other victims I’m towing behind me.” But she keeps moving forward.
“I could drop it all, but what would that mean for those who have finally come forward?” Anne wrote. “In my heart, I’m committed to them. I don’t want to ruin their chance for justice. … I can’t hold the guilt of giving up, of allowing him to get away with it, for a lifetime without fighting.”