The Jameis Winston Sexual Assault Case: No End Here


Read Jessica Luther’s first piece for RH Reality Check about the Jameis Winston case here.

Last week, at a scheduled press conference in Tallahassee, Florida, State Attorney Willie Meggs announced he would not be pressing sexual assault charges against Jameis Winston, the first-ranked Florida State University’s (FSU) star quarterback and Heisman front-runner. Meggs said, “We have a duty as prosecutors to determine if each case has a reasonable likelihood of conviction. After reviewing the facts in this case, we do not feel that we can reach those burdens.” When asked specifically about whether he was saying that Winston was innocent of the crime, Meggs backed off and said he would “leave that to you all after you review the facts.”

And so, the culmination of a month-long, high-profile sexual assault case that was followed closely in the media ended in the commonly murky and shadowed space somewhere between innocence and guilt, true accusations and false reports. Like the vast majority of sexual assault cases in the United States, this one will not even make it to a courtroom, there will be no public discussion of the evidence, and there will be no definitive legal outcome. There is no exoneration for Winston (despite how many times a talking head on ESPN says so) and no justice for the woman.

First, some background on the case and the investigation.

Thursday’s press conference followed a strange series of events that began almost a year before, on December 7, 2012. Early that morning, the friend of a female FSU student called the FSU Police Department (FSUPD) and reported that her friend had been raped. Because the rape occurred off-campus, the FSUPD passed the case over to the Tallahassee Police Department. An officer met the woman at the hospital where she was providing evidence for a rape kit. She gave a statement that night (and provided a written statement the following day) of what she could remember, but was unable to identify her perpetrator. A month later, on January 10, after recognizing him in a class they had together that semester, she contacted the investigator and told them that Jameis Winston had raped her. Winston got a lawyer but was never questioned. The police say they stopped the investigation when the woman said she no longer wanted to pursue it and informed Winston’s lawyer that the case was closed; she says that the police failed to get in touch with her and that she never asked for the investigation to end.

Then, in early November 2013, after two media outlets contacted the Tallahassee PD looking for the report of the crime from December 7, 2012, the investigator decided to turn over the case to the state attorney’s office. After the news broke of the allegation against Winston, an investigation was reopened. The woman was once again questioned, as were friends she had been with or whom she’d contacted that night. Also questioned were two of Winston’s friends and fellow teammates (one of them his roommate) who were in the apartment while Winston and the woman were in the other room where the alleged attack happened.

When a leak by ESPN revealed that the DNA results from the rape kit matched Winston’s sample, he released a statement through his lawyer saying the sex that night was consensual. She maintains that he raped her.

The peak (or perhaps nadir) of this media spectacle was Meggs’ press conference last week. He announced it the day before, ESPN aired it live, and during the press conference, Meggs and others laughed multiple times about the case at hand.

When Meggs told reporters on Thursday that he would “leave that to you all after you review the facts,” those facts are a 248-page report compiled by his office from a variety of sources, including reports by the investigator in charge of the woman’s case, the results of her rape kit, witness reports, and copies of texts and tweets written by the victim around the time of the alleged rape. Yet, after reading the “facts,” it is clear that nothing about this case is clear:

  • His witnesses directly contradict her account but their statements were taken almost a year after the fact; her account was taken the very day of the alleged crime.

  • Her description of the events that night, while full of holes due to problems with her memory (a toxicology screen ruled out the possibility of her being drugged), has been consistent for over a year. Details from that night (what the apartment looked like, the name of Winston’s roommate, that he drove a scooter, the places in the apartment where Winston had sex with her) all match up with what investigators uncovered.

  • Winston’s DNA was found on her underwear and on her body. On her pink pants, there was also the DNA of another man, one she says she had consensual sex with sometime prior to the events of that night. Meggs specifically mentioned the presence of another man’s DNA as a complicating factor.

  • When she showed up to the hospital that night, there was blood on her pink pants and bruises on her body.

  • Police failure to investigate the crime when it was initially reported meant that potential witnesses were lost and video footage from the bar where they met had long ago been erased. Meggs did say that “it would have been somewhat better if we had gotten into this case a little bit earlier.”

  • The police say they closed the case because they never heard back from her about moving forward. They informed Winston’s lawyer of this fact in February. Her lawyer states that it was the police who stopped contacting them.

What can we takeaway from this then?

Is this another example of the lionizing of football players getting in the way of a police investigation? Is this just what happens when the lucrative and popular sport of football intersects with the damaging and victim-blaming rape culture that surround us? Or is it a product of a culture on college campuses today? Or both at once?

What role does the race of the accuser (a white woman) and that of Winston (a Black man) play in all of this? Does the media share blame in the outcome?

Can any of this be singled out? Should we only talk about one piece of this complicated pie? But is it even possible to talk about all of this at once?

The ambiguous outcome of this case is a product of a society that privileges a certain kind of masculinity, that funnels money into sports and players, that blames victims of sexual assault for their attack but sees Black men as a danger to white women, that knows that college campuses foster an atmosphere that protects rapists but does little to eradicate that, and that has a media that enjoys a frenzy and a scandal more than it will ever care about justice.

On top of all of this, we live in a society that does not invest in teaching what consent actually is. During the infamous Steubenville trial, one of the teenage witnesses to the crime, when asked why he didn’t intervene, said, “It wasn’t violent. I didn’t know what rape was. I pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.” While this appears to be the words of someone who is trying to explain away a terrible decision he made, it may, in part, also be true. The FBI’s own definition of rape was woefully lacking less than two years ago. And the mantra of “no means no” places the burden of stopping a rape on the ability of a rape victim to vocalize (and prove they vocalized) that they do not consent. Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman have explained how this “no means no” mindset fails:

But in a culture that insists women prove they didn’t want to have sex, anything becomes “yes.” A passcode. The fact that the young woman got into a car with a group of boys willingly. Even the victim’s silence becomes a “yes.”

The woman in the Jameis Winston case told police that she did try to tell him that she did not consent to what was happening but also that she felt ill and was having trouble talking. Maybe she never actually got out the word “no” or “stop.” But that shouldn’t matter at all. If we taught enthusiastic consent as the only acceptable indicator of someone’s desire to have sex, then there would be far fewer questions about what happened. “Did you ask her if she wanted to have sex with you and did she say ‘yes’?” That is a whole other world from “Did she ever say ‘no’ or fight back?” If I could choose which world to live in, I’d choose the former.

I don’t live in that world, though, and so here is the hardest part of all of this for me: Winston may truly believe he did nothing wrong and that he had consensual sex with this woman and she may truly believe that he raped her. And so, there is no end here for either Winston or the woman. There is no tidy wrap up or conclusive report. The case is now a statistic in a sea of such statistics, another example that our justice system and society at large are ill-equipped to handle sexual assault cases and the damage they do to everyone involved.

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  • Spelvin

    Keeping in mind that the complainant was intoxicated at the time and has no recollection of much of what happened that night, it is certainly possible that the she fell to the ground (as intoxicated persons are wont to do), resulting in bruises on her forearm and knee and blood on her shorts, and doesn’t remember having done so.

    • Blog Blog

      Some truth to this, but while the accuser stated that she had some drinks (the number she claimed she had changed from between 3 and 7) her blood alcohol at 4am was indicative of someone that had 1 or 2 drinks 5 hours before (her blood alcohol was .04 at the hospital) This would indicate that she was certainly not “black-out, stumble-around” drunk at any point that night.
      What does that mean?
      In this particular case, it means that she has no explanation as to why she has 20 and 30 minute gaps in memory from the night after she left the bar with Mr. Winston.
      Note: In addition to the “I think someone might have clubbed me in the head” story, she also gave a “someone handed me a strange drink” story to the police to insinuate the men might have drugged her. Multiple tests done on her blood work from that night show that there were no drugs in her system.

      • Spelvin

        Your use of “drinks” is problematic because “drinks” doesn’t indicate how much ethanol was in whatever she consumed.

        You don’t know how drunk she was that night. People metabolize ethanol at different rates. There is no knowing what her BAC was at its peak that night.

        Actually, there is one explanation as to why there are massive gaps in her memory–that explanation is that she was drunk.

        Yeah, her multiple stories (you pretty much blatantly lie about how her story was “consistent,” despite the fact that it wasn’t) were all over the place and they changed all the time.

        There is no evidence that she was drugged–in fact, there is evidence that she was NOT drugged. So you can take that BS insinuation on the hell out of here.

      • lady_black

        Since her BAC was 0.04 (half of the legal limit for driving) it is by no means certain that she had “1 or 2 drinks five hours earlier.” In fact, since the average metabolism of alcohol is one 12oz beer or 1 typical cocktail per hour, she would have had to be much more highly intoxicated five hours earlier than one would be consuming only one or two drinks. Not only that, but the failure of her memory as to details of the evening indicates that she in fact WAS highly intoxicated at the time of the incident.

    • Jessica Luther

      The police reported that bruises appeared on her body during questioning.

      • Spelvin

        “Nurse Walker noted [...] a bruise
        above the left knee, a bruise on the right forearm”

        The above quote is the only passage that mentions bruises in the report you linked to; not once does it indicate that the bruises “appeared” during their questioning. If there is another passage or other police report that indicates this, post the link to it. Otherwise, it appears that you just blatantly lied about the police report again.

    • fiona64

      Someone who is inebriated is incapable of consent.

      • annebeth66

        So what happens if both the man & the woman are inebriated? I think that a lot of these rape situations arise out of both parties being drunk, neither one is capable of consent.

        • WagatweRHRC

          Oftentimes perpetrators use being drunk as an excuse to avoid culpability for their actions. From http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/10/college-men-stop-getting-drunk.html

          “A 2001 study found that ‘alcohol consumption may contribute to some sexual assaults because it allows perpetrators to focus on their immediate feelings of sexual desire and entitlement rather than on more distal cues like the victim’s suffering or their own feelings or morality.'”

          • CJ99

            Alcohol lowers inhibitions and has been known to do so for a long time so when a rapist is drunk it just makes it easier for them to rape which Is what I think you’re getting at.

        • L-dan

          If a drunk driver hits a drunk pedestrian, who is going to be considered at fault? Right. Because being drunk is not allowed as a defense for doing illegal things.

          If one suspects that their judgement would be so impaired as to misjudge the ability of someone else to consent to sex, perhaps they should probably have their friends watching them and waving them off of such activities; much like having a sober friend along to take their keys if they’re too drunk.

          • CJ99

            according to those defending the “alleged” rapist it would depend entirely on who is the football player and nothing else. facts mean nothing to such people as they’ve evidenced so many times.

      • colleen2

        yes but rapists and Republican MRA’s don’t believe in that consent business unless they’re trying to convince you that a 12 year old ‘consented’. In that case they just can’t see the difference between a little girl or boy and an adult woman.
        Rapists don’t believe they are the perverted disgusting pieces of shit we all know them to be. Rapists think they are normal and the women and children whose lives they destroy are either whining or lying.

      • Hank

        Actually, it depends on the level of inebriation. I could certainly give legal consent after a few drinks, complete consciousness and a low BAC. If there was testimony that she was too drunk to consent, then this would matter. However, she is the only one that called attention to her drunkenness. Her friends did mention she was still quite drunk later that night, but her BAC was a 0.04, well under the legal limit. So, there are enough contradictions here for an argument either way.

        • fiona64

          This is answered beautifully below, so I’ll just cut-and-paste that here:

          lady_black wrote:

          Since her BAC was 0.04 (half of the legal limit for driving) it is by no means certain that she had “1 or 2 drinks five hours earlier.” In fact, since the average metabolism of alcohol is one 12oz beer or 1 typical cocktail per hour, she would have had to be much more highly intoxicated five hours earlier than one would be consuming only one or two drinks. Not only that, but the failure of her memory as to details of the evening indicates that she in fact WAS highly intoxicated at the time of the incident.

        • CJ99

          You’re using alcohol to make the “no means yes” excuse.

          • Hank

            That is not at all what I am saying. I guess I was not clear enough on this comment. I have posted more extensively elsewhere. I am coming from the perspective of what would be argued in the court room. I am simply saying that having any alcohol in your system does not eliminate the ability to consent and that the evidence is not concrete that she was as drunk as her story implies. This would definitely be considered by the defense to counter her claims.

            I am in no way saying that “no means yes”. That’s putting words in my mouth. “No” always means “no”. But we don’t know what actually happened. We have evidence and interviews. I don’t know what happened. All I know is that the report from the police has a lot of contradictory evidence for both sides.

          • CJ99

            Hank the only person putting words in your mouth is you. You’re silly rant is far more transparant than you’re letting yourself believe. And just so you know, seeing a few Law & Order: SVU episodes doesn’t make you the legal expert.

    • CJ99

      Anyone as intoxicated at yourself should stay off the net until sobered up.

  • Jessica Luther

    Does it matter that she changed her mind the day after the rape to pursue charges? She’s the one who got back in touch with the police in January when she figured out who she believed was her perpetrator. If she was not interested in aiding the investigation past that night of the incident, why did she do that?

    It’s not uncommon for rape victims to have a lot of trouble recalling events the night of their rape, something I linked to when I mentioned the holes in her story. That she had pain in the back of her head that she could not explain, I’m not shocked seeing as she also had bruises on the front of her body and blood on her pants.

    I actually don’t see anything contradictory in her phone records. Can you be more specific?

    And no, the two affidavits submitted by Winston’s witnesses (which are similarly written, and one is different than what the man said when he gave his verbal testimony to the police) do not match her friend’s accounts because they barely overlap in time. His friends’ accounts mainly deal with what happened once they left the bar, which she did alone without any of her friends.

    • vdizzle

      Listen, I hate the way people have been talking/commenting about the accuser. But I also hate the way the media and others have been painting the accused as guilty even though no charges were pressed. Doesn’t he also deserve the benefit of the doubt?
      And honestly, after reading through the police documents, whatever happened that night could’ve gone both ways. You mention the bruising on the accused. But the bruises could’ve also been consistent with her giving a BJ, as one of the witnesses reported. There were no physical signs of any head trauma, nor were there traces of any drug (like a roofie) in her system. All of the evidence that I’ve seen is ambiguous at BEST. So I ask: when presented with such ambiguous evidence, why take a side?
      I think that it’s horrible the the accuser is being dragged through the mud, but i think that it’s equally horrible that the accused is as well.

  • fiona64

    “We have a duty as prosecutors to determine if each case has a reasonable
    likelihood of conviction. After reviewing the facts in this case, we do
    not feel that we can reach those burdens.”

    What they’re really saying is that they don’t think that they could get a jury willing to convict a jock of a crime.

    Quelle surprise.

    • Jessica Luther

      While I obviously think football culture plays a role in this particular incident, only 8% of rapists are prosecuted and only 4% of all rapists are convicted. It’s just really hard to find a jury willing to convict anyone of rape.

      • fiona64

        Reply to Jack Jaes in moderation:

        I don’t give two shits about a jock’s stats. The point is that jocks are taught, by example and by word, that they can get away with anything. That they are *owed* certain things by dint of their ability to throw a ball around.

        And *that* is part of the problem.

    • Blog Blog

      You obviously didn’t read the details of the investigation. Saying that the case didn’t have “a reasonable likelihood of conviction” was being quite friendly to this alleged victim.
      The motive for your comment is obviously your bias, prejudice, or hate, or some combination of the three.
      Congratulations on being part of the problem.

  • Hank

    This article left out some major problems that would have faced prosecutors.

    -Her story changed multiple times over the last year. It did not remain the same as the article states.
    -She had lapses in memory that cannot be explained by drugs, the level of alcohol in her system or any physical signs of trauma. That is hard to explain on the stand.
    -She had a second set of unknown DNA on her. Specifically, in the same swabs as the Jameis Winston samples. While she has said that it was from a male friend or boyfriend, she did not identify him. No DNA test was performed. So, this goes down as a giant hole in the prosecution’s case. If you can’t even identify both DNA samples and the witness has unexplainable lapses in memory, how can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jameis Winston in fact raped her?
    -No eye witness testimony says anything about inappropriate actions by Winston, except the accuser. No one at the bar, not her friends or Winston’s friends, describe Winston’s demeanor that night in any way that could question his character. If such testimony existed, it would greatly boost the prosecution’s case. There would be quite a lot of info lobbed at the accuser to discredit her and with nothing to respond with towards Winston, this represents another strategic disadvantage.

    All in all, this would have been an extremely difficult case to prosecute. Anyone who suggests otherwise is not looking at all of the findings in an objective manner.

    • bitchybitchybitchy

      I agree that given the memory lapses that this case would have been very difficult for a prosecutor to bring in court.

  • http://gravatar.com/charid ChariD

    Women (and all persons) should be considered to be in a default state of non-consent.

  • Arachne646

    How about teaching the “enthusiasm/consent is sexy” idea, rather than just the “how I can prevent myself from being stranger-raped” one. Incidentally, my message is targeted at the probably male audience who need to learn more about what consent is, not potential victims. Potential victims in the college student demographic get lots of rape prevention information.

  • john

    If all this happened where is the full report? I would like to read the full report not just a couple of paragraphs of the report which in fact you can be helping the accuser