NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana State University officials did little to address allegations of sexual harassment and assault against a French graduate student, enabling his interactions with undergraduate women and high school girls, even after learning he had been arrested on a rape charge in central Louisiana, six women said in a federal lawsuit.
The suit, filed Monday in Baton Rouge, says two of the plaintiffs, both undergraduate students, were eventually raped by Edouard d'Espalungue d'Arros, who is believed to have taken refuge in France.
The other women — another undergraduate, two graduate students and a professor — all say they were victims of harassment, unwanted physical contact or retaliation involving d'Espalungue. Their complaints with LSU's Title IX office, charged with looking into violations of federal law involving sexual discrimination, went nowhere, according to the lawsuit.
“There is no record that any investigation was launched, or interim measures implemented," the lawsuit said. It also says that the Title IX office “on at least one occasion” said the harassment complaints didn't warrant an investigation, even though d’Espalungue faced multiple such complaints — and the rape allegation in Rapides Parish.
The lawsuit follows multiple scandals involving LSU’s handling of sexual harassment and assault complaints, including some involving star athletes. In addition to litigation, there was a searing independent report earlier this year that documented years of LSU’s mishandling of student allegations of rape, assault and abuse covered under federal Title IX laws.
News outlets reported that d’Espalungue was permitted by a state judge in Rapides Parish to travel to France last year — well after his 2018 arrest, but before he was indicted in February on a charge of third-degree rape. The alleged victim in that case is a University of Louisiana-Lafayette student who said d’Espalungue raped her while both were attending a religious retreat in Rapides Parish.
An arrest warrant has been issued for d'Espalungue, but the prospects for forcing him to return to Louisiana are unclear. “Our office is actively working with law enforcement, including our federal partners, to secure the apprehension of this fugitive,” Brian Cespiva, an assistant district attorney in Rapides Parish said in a statement issued Wednesday.
The suit against LSU also says d’Espalungue was able to use his role at the university to have contact with high school students, and includes allegations that he seduced one such student after she attended an awards ceremony at LSU in April 2019.
Neither the university nor any of the individual LSU officials named as defendants in the lawsuit have filed a response yet. The university declined comment when asked if any of the officials would have anything to say in response. The lawsuit seeks a minimum of $75,000 in damages to compensate them for what the suit calls “physical, mental, emotional and career harm” and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.
The lawsuit says LSU learned of the pending rape allegation in Rapides Parish no later than Oct. 10, 2018, citing local news reports. It says d’Espalungue was removed as a graduate teaching assistant by Troy Blanchard, dean of the LSU College of Humanities and a defendant in the lawsuit.
But the suit says Adelaide Russo, chair of the department of French studies and also a defendant, effectively kept him in contact with students in a variety of ways including roles involving department programs such as French Table and French Movie Night and running social media accounts for the LSU French Club.
Only after an LSU Student Advocacy and Accountability Office investigation into the alleged September 2020 rape of one of the plaintiffs, identified as Jane Doe #1, was d'Espalungue suspended from LSU. There is no indication that the student in that case pursued a criminal charge in Baton Rouge.
Meanwhile, the case against d'Espalungue in Rapides Parish was pending. The alleged victim in that case told The Advocate newspaper, which published a lengthy examination of her case Tuesday, that the case has taken a heavy toll on her emotionally. Her family has filed a federal lawsuit against d'Espalungue — court records detail their most recent efforts to serve him with a summons in France. And she said she is determined to press on with the case after talking with other victims.
“I could drop it all, but what would that mean for those who have finally come forward?” the woman wrote to The Advocate. “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.”