There’s a point at the end of this report from USA TODAY Sports’ Rachel Axon in which she cites that, under Florida statute, it’s illegal to videotape someone while they are in a state of “dressing, undressing or privately exposing the body.” It’s a misdemeanor to watch even without filming anything. Chris Casher, in a statement given to Florida investigators late last year, admitted that he secretly taped Jameis Winston having sex with a college-aged woman who claims Winston was raping her at the time. Casher won’t be charged with a crime because he deleted the video and ditched the phone before the police got to him. If you want some idea of how awful this saga has been, that’s a good place to start.
Incompetence is never a satisfying answer to why a crime goes unpunished, but it’s at least understandable. Police and prosecutors make mistakes. But way too many people have botched the handling of the Winston case for mere incompetence to be an acceptable answer. The police investigation itself was already a mess that left State Attorney Willie Meggs with very little to work with and resulted in the state not pressing any charges against Winston. Now we know Florida State screwed up their Title IX investigation as well.
According to Adam Weinstein at Deadspin, Florida State waited until late January to hold a mandatory Title IX investigation meant to determine if the players involved — Winston, Casher, and FSU defensive back Ronald Darby — were responsible for any wrongdoing. The investigation found Casher and Darby guilty of “conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for another person” and “acts that invade the privacy of another person.” Winston wouldn’t talk to the board conducting the investigation about what occurred on the night of the alleged rape, so FSU hasn’t charged him with anything.
Florida State was supposed to hold this Title IX investigation long before the Seminoles’ season was over. According to the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, investigations must be “prompt, thorough and impartial.” The school also wasn’t supposed to call Winston (or Chase or Darby, for that matter) into a pre-meeting hearing without also reaching out to Winston’s accuser for her side of story. The alleged victim has been, according to her attorney, more than willing to cooperate, but she has been kept at arm’s length by the school. Essentially, FSU did everything wrong, short of not conducting any investigation at all.
The OCR is investigating Florida State for the reckless way they’ve handled this case, which is the only good news to come out of this sordid story since it was reported late last year. The OCR is also in the process of examining how Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina and Penn State have dealt with alleged sexual assaults involving students (not all of them athletes). Maybe a government agency that has the power to revoke federal funding — although that power has thus far gone unused — can hand down a punishment that will send an unequivocal message to universities (the public ones, at least) that they need to comply with federal guidelines and do a much better job of looking into sexual assault allegations.
It might be a positive thing that this incident is back in the news. Nearly everything about it is sickening, but at least there’s a high-profile sexual assault case in the headlines — and hopefully, it’s forcing some of us to reckon with the fact that, on college campuses and elsewhere, we do a poor job of investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases. (And as Tomas Rios argued months ago, the media often does a poor job covering them.)
As more evidence comes to light, I have an increasingly harder time believing there wasn’t a cover-up, or Winston didn’t receive some sort of special treatment from the university and/or the police because of who he is. I hope more reports come out about FSU’s incompetence. I hope there’s a deluge of them, and it becomes apparent to anyone with half a brain that FSU did an extremely poor job on purpose. Whether there was a rape or not — let’s keep in mind, though, that women very rarely make stories up about this sort of thing — the best possible outcome is that FSU’s seemingly odious process is laid bare, and it sparks a conversation about how colleges deal with sexual assault allegations and the hero status they wrongly grant their most prominent athletes. There is no happy ending to this story, only a useful one.