Florida State Isn’t Listening to Rape Survivors

Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback who was accused of sexual assault by a fellow student, was cleared of any violations of FSU’s code of conduct in a university hearing this week. The anonymous female student reported the alleged rape in December 2012, and this decision brings about a disappointing end to a two-year embroilment that made national headlines.

The student now has five days to appeal FSU’s ruling.

In a statement that Winston’s lawyer released on Twitter, he said the university found a lack of evidence that Winston had committed any wrongdoing:

In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for ANY of the charged violations of the code.

He then quickly followed up with a second tweet in which said he was “Anxious 2 see the media finally dismiss this fraud,” referring to the lawyer of the accuser, John Clune.

For his part, Clune noted that only the accuser testified at the hearing:

The three football players—Jameis Winston, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby [the latter two were at the apartment where the rape allegedly occurred]—all refused to testify and answer questions, and somehow Jameis Winston still wins. The order [from Harding] doesn’t even follow the student conduct code, and it ignores the bulk of the evidence. … There are certainly glaring bases for appeal, but at some point we have to recognize that Florida State is never going to hold Jameis Winston responsible.

This decision came on top of a Florida prosecutor deciding not to pursue criminal charges against Winston a year ago.

The Winston case has shown once again that some universities hold their athletes not only in high esteem but above the law. As Ms. previously blogged, “Famous Jameis” had been “the toast of sports media” who “single-handedly brought Florida State … back from the dead.” Similar to the Steubenville trial, the town rallied behind its local star with Tallahassee news outlets proclaiming Winston’s innocence. A Florida sports writer even went so far as to write that false rape accusations are just “the price of being famous.”

There is indeed a price to Winston’s celebrity, but his victim is the one who’s paying it, as she’s discredited and ridiculed–all to protect a community’s precious Heisman Trophy winner.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding, who was appointed to be the “hearing body” in the conduct case, wrote in a decision letter to Winston:

The accuser’s statements concerning the night’s events have changed over time, but [the] one point on which she has remained steadfast is that once in your room that you had sexual intercourse and that she did not consent to or actively participate in the intercourse. You, however, vehemently contradict the accuser’s recitation of the night’s events.

Harding added that he could “not find the credibility of one story substantially stronger than that of the other” since there were no witnesses to the incident besides Jameis and the accuser.

Harding’s statements prove that in the game of “he said, she said,” “he said” wins. The voice of Winston—and other men accused of rape—is often the default. If there is any doubt or ambiguity, the pendulum swings in the accused’s favor, with the powers-that-be supporting the claims of the (male) privileged.

Very few women can provide a witness to their rapes, so Harding, in blaming a lack of witness testimony for his decision, only further puts the onus of proof on the victim. What would Harding propose for a rape survivor’s word to wield any power over her accused rapist? Should women wear body cameras? Have a hidden tape recorder? Bring a chaperone with them at all times? What do women have to do to be believed? Apparently all the accused has to do is be male and contradict the accuser.

Winston will go on with his life, play with his teammates in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day and most likely have a career in the NFL. His accuser will remain unheard.

Photo courtesy of Adam Kamram via Creative Commons 2.0. 



Associate editor of Ms. magazine