It’s been quite a year in higher ed when the biggest stories to rock campuses are about sexual assault and football.
When the Department of Education and the White House weigh in to make sure young women are protected and afforded equal treatment, it’s a sure sign that there’s a grave need for some priority realignment on campus.
But as the year closes, higher ed shouldn’t get too smug over what appears to be reversals in some high-profile rape cases at Florida State and Virginia.
Virginia got lucky that Rolling Stone had some holes in its reporting. It doesn’t mean Virginia doesn’t have a much larger campus rape problem.
And don’t let the free pass to Jameis Winston on the Florida State student code fool you.
When the penalty is merely exoneration or expulsion, the stakes are a lot lower than a criminal court’s felony rape charges.
So when the worst thing that could happen in the decision is that Winston doesn’t get to start in the Rose Bowl on Thursday, what’s a retired Florida Supreme Court chief justice hired to hear the case supposed to do?
Punt, of course.
And that’s what retired judge Major B. Harding did in his short decision, a letter to Winston dated Dec. 19:
“….the evidence regarding the events that unfolded between you and (accuser) once in your room is irreconcilable. In light of all of the circumstances, I do not find the credibility of one story substantially stronger than that of the other. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses. I cannot find with any confidence that the events as set forth by you, (accuser), or a particular combination thereof is more probable than not as required to find you responsible for a violation of the Code. Therein lies the determinative factor of my decision.”
Harding couldn’t decide who to believe: The accuser, who said she said no to Winston and his football teammates (Darby and Casher); Or Winston, the Heisman winner/football star who simply called the accuser a liar.
Here’s how the judge saw it, according to his letter to Winston:
“Accuser)’s statements concerning the night’s events have changed over time, but one point on which she has remained steadfast is that once in your room that you had sexual intercourse with her and that she did not consent to or actively participate in the sexual intercourse. (accuser) stated that she told you no and/or to stop and that Mr. Darby, who she identified by his dreadlocks, came into the room and told to you stop as well. She stated that you subsequently carried her into your bathroom, locked the door, and proceeded to continue sexual intercourse against her will. (Accuser) stated that she continued to plea for you to stop when in the bathroom and that she tried to resist you at this point but that you pinned her down.
You, however, vehemently contradict (accuser)’s recitation of the night’s events. You testified that once in your room that you and (accuser) engaged in foreplay and that you asked for, and (accuser) willingly performed, oral sex on you. You further testified that you retrieved a condom, that (accuser) assisted you in putting on the condom, and that (accuser) was an active participant in the sexual intercourse that followed. You testified that (accuser)’s physical actions and statements during the sexual intercourse demonstrated its consensual nature and that she at no time told you no, told you to stop, or objectively demonstrated any objection.
You testified that Mr. Casher came into the room and that (accuser) told Mr. Casher no and to get out and/or leave, but that these statements were never directed at you. Mr. Casher admits that it was he, and not Mr. Darby, who entered your room, and Mr. Casher was found responsible for doing so at his own student conduct hearing. The statements of Mr. Casher and Mr. Darby, although based on brief observations, are consistent with your recitation of events. While the statements of Mr. Casher and Mr. Darby differed on certain points, their main observations have remained consistent.
You testified that (accuser), following Mr. Casher having entered the room and the door being pushed open, asked if there was somewhere more private. Namely, you indicated that (accuser) wanted to continue to have sexual intercourse with you, and that was the reason you both went into the bathroom where you continued to have sexual intercourse. Although Mr. Casher made a statement as to what he thought he heard, you and (accuser) are the only persons with personal knowledge as to what actually happened in the bathroom.”
The judge just couldn’t make up his mind.
But he also didn’t get a chance to talk to or cross-examine any of the football players. Winston, Chris Casher, and Ronald Darby, all of whom refused to answer questions or submit to cross examination.
Only the accuser answered questions at the hearing.
So after reviewing the case, the score is kind of tied in the judge’s mind. But it only benefits Winston.
It’s quite an exposure of the Football Player legal system at FSU.
But then the real legal system has already failed in this case.
As I wrote in my April 21 blog this year, the New York Times’ Walt Bogdanich, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, revealed that, when the Winston case first came up, “there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.”
Wrote Bogdanich: “The police did not follow the obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter. After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA. The detective handling the case waited two months to write his first report and then prematurely suspended his inquiry without informing the accuser. By the time the prosecutor got the case, important evidence had disappeared, including the video of the sexual act.”
So much for the legal system, the school system, what’s left?
There may be a civil case.
At least the independent judge acknowledged the accuser did say, “No,” to Jameis Winston.
Now that’s news in a state where Jameis Winston always hears, “Yes.”
Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok