Jameis Winston, the star quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State University, led the Seminoles to a 34-31 victory over the University of Auburn in the BCS National Championship game on Jan. 6.
Winston capped an incredible athletic display throughout the season despite being mired in a sexual assault case. With the decision on the status of the investigation coming only a few days before the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December, there was a great deal of doubt over Winston’s star status.
Fortunately for Winston, Florida state attorney William Meggs announced in December that the state would not file sexual assault charges against him.
The announcement was disturbingly marked by its jocular tone. Throughout the announcement and the subsequent questions, the state attorney and members of the press joked about Winston’s Heisman candidacy and the accuser’s boyfriend.
The accuser’s attorney’s conference was understandably less jovial, as attorney Patricia Carroll castigated the investigation by the state attorney office. Carroll stated that, “this was a complete failure of an investigation of a rape case.” While she said that going through all of the failures of the state’s investigation would take an entire day, her chief concerns were that the police department in Tallahassee (TPD) failed to test the victim’s blood for date-rape drugs, the medical records from the night were altered or redacted and the TPD failed to record conversations with the victim, witnesses and Winston’s attorney until after the case was closed. The TPD also failed to execute a warrant to conduct a DNA test on Winston after the victim identified him as her attacker.
She lambasted Meggs and Scott Angulo, the head detective, for “not [even] conducting an investigation on the suspect.” In addition, she criticized the focus of Megg’s supposed investigation by stating that he focused more attention on the victim’s boyfriend and consensual sexual relationship than on the suspect himself. In addition, according to Carroll, Meggs focused primarily on the witness accounts from two Florida State football players (teammates of Jameis Winston).
Now, if this investigation seems flawed, imagine that blundered investigations for rape and sexual assault cases like this occur all the time. This only aspect of this case that is extraordinary is that the accused won a Heisman trophy.
However, there are plenty of aspects of this investigation that are by no means extraordinary and is in fact prevalent.
The first aspect of this case is an investigation of the victim rather than the suspect and threatening behavior towards the victim. Angulo said to the victim “[that she] needs to think long and hard before proceeding against (Winston),” lest she “be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.” This statement is relatively mild compared to the threats and hostility received by other women who had come forward against athletes that had sexually assaulted or raped the victims. Such hostility from the football team and administration of Notre Dame was shown to a female college student who had come forward with a sexual assault charge caused her to take her own life.
Other cases of threats from the community against an accuser can be seen in a recent case in Maryville, Mo., where a girl had come forward against a high school football player. The girl and her family received so much hostility that they were eventually forced to move (afterwards the family’s house in Maryville was burned down by an unknown arsonist). The hostility has even continued into this month with the victim attempting suicide.
Coming forward against athletes takes a tremendous amount of courage, and that is an absolute shame. It should not require bravery to report a crime beyond confronting their attacker. The crime itself is traumatizing enough for the victim, but society often makes it even more difficult for these women by protecting the reputation of the athlete rather than the victim; testing a woman’s blood for alcohol and narcotics, but not for date-rape drugs, investigating the woman’s life rather than the accused’s, for the average spectator believing that the girl is lying even though such cases are extremely rare. These are all examples and consequences of a society that protects the privileged athlete to the detriment of the victim.