Commentary Violence

The Jameis Winston Sexual Assault Case: No End Here

Jessica Luther

The only thing about the Jameis Winston case that is clear is that nothing about the case is clear. It 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.

Read Jessica Luther’s first piece for Rewire 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.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

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.

Commentary Politics

It’s Not Just Trump: The Right Wing’s Increasing Reliance on Violence and Intimidation as a Path to Power

Jodi Jacobson

Republicans have tried to pass Trump's most recent comments off as a joke because to accept the reality of that rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large.

This week, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that, if Hillary Clinton were elected and able to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about it. After blaming the media for “being dishonest” in reporting his statement, the Trump campaign has since tried to pass the comment off as a joke. However characterized, Trump’s statement is not only part of his own election strategy, but also a strategy that has become synonymous with those of candidates, legislators, and groups affiliated with the positions of the GOP.

To me, the phrase “Second Amendment people” translates to those reflexively opposed to any regulation of gun sales and ownership and who feel they need guns to arm themselves against the government. I’m not alone: The comment was widely perceived as an implicit threat of violence against the Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, GOP party leaders have failed to condemn his comment, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreeing with the Trump campaign that it was “a joke gone bad.”

Republicans have tried to pass it off as a joke because to accept the reality of their rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large. The rhetoric is part of a longer and increasingly dangerous effort by the GOP, aided by corporate-funded right-wing organizations and talk show hosts, to de-legitimize the federal government, undermine confidence in our voting system, play on the fears held by a segment of the population about tyranny and the loss of liberty, and intimidate people Republican leaders see as political enemies.

Ironically, while GOP candidates and leaders decry the random violence of terrorist groups like Daeshitself an outgrowth of desperate circumstances, failed states, and a perceived or real loss of powerthey are perpetuating the idea of loss and desperation in the United States and inciting others to random violence against political opponents.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment came after a week of efforts by the Trump campaign to de-legitimize the 2016 presidential election well before a single vote has been cast. On Monday, August 1, after polls showed Trump losing ground, he asserted in an Ohio campaign speech that “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest.”

Manufactured claims of widespread voter fraud—a problem that does not exist, as several analyses have shown—have nonetheless been repeatedly pushed by the GOP since the 2008 election. Using these disproven claims as support, GOP legislatures in 20 states have passed new voter restrictions since 2010, and still the GOP claims elections are suspect, stoking the fears of average voters seeking easy answers to complex problems and feeding the paranoia of separatist and white nationalist groups. Taking up arms against an illegitimate government is, after all, exactly what “Second Amendment remedies” are for.

Several days before Trump’s Ohio speech, Trump adviser Roger Stone suggested that the result of the election might be “illegitimate,” leading to “widespread civil disobedience” and a “bloodbath,” a term I personally find chilling.

Well before these comments were made, there was the hate-fest otherwise known as the Republican National Convention (RNC), during which both speakers and supporters variously called for Clinton to be imprisoned or shot, and during which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a man not widely known for his high ethical standards or sense of accountability, led a mock trial of Hillary Clinton to chants from the crowd of “lock her up.” And that was the tame part.

The number of times Trump has called for or supported violence at his rallies is too long to catalogue here. His speeches are rife with threats to punch opponents; after the Democratic National Convention, he threatened to hit speakers who critiqued his policies “so hard their heads would spin.” He also famously promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who hurt protesters at his rallies and defended former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after allegations surfaced that Lewandowski had assaulted a female Breitbart reporter.

A recent New York Times video compiled over a year of reporting at Trump rallies revealed the degree to which many of Trump’s supporters unapologetically express violence and hatred—for women, immigrants, and people of color. And Trump eschews any responsibility for what has transpired, repeatedly claiming he does not condone violence—his own rhetoric, that of his associates, and other evidence notwithstanding.

Still, to focus only on Trump is to ignore a broader and deeper acceptance, even encouragement of, incitement to violence by the GOP that began long before the 2016 campaign.

In 2008, in what may appear to be a now forgotten but eerily prescient peek at the 2016 RNC, then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, used race-baiting and hints at violence to gin up their crowds. First, Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” a claim that became part of her stump speech. As a result, Frank Rich then wrote in the New York Times:

At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option.

Nothing was in fact done. No price was paid by GOP candidates encouraging this kind of behavior.

In 2009, during congressional debates on the Affordable Care Act, opponents of the health-care law, who’d been fed a steady diet of misleading and sensationalist information, were encouraged by conservative groups like FreedomWorks and Right Principles, as well as talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity, to disrupt town hall meetings on the legislation held throughout the country. Protesters turned up at some town hall meetings armed with rifles with the apparent intention of intimidating those who, in supporting health reform, disagreed with them. In some cases, what began as nasty verbal attacks turned violent. As the New York Times then reported: “[M]embers of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.”

In 2010, as first reported by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), suggested that armed insurrection would be the answer if “this Congress keeps going the way it is.” In response to a request for clarification by the host of the radio show on which she made her comments, Angle said:

You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.

I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.

Also in 2010, Palin, by then a failed vice-presidential candidate, created a map “targeting” congressional Democrats up for re-election, complete with crosshairs. Palin announced the map to her supporters with this exhortation: “Don’t retreat. Instead, reload!”

One of the congresspeople on that map was Arizona Democrat Gabby Giffords, who in the 2010 Congressional race was challenged by Jesse Kelly, a Palin-backed Tea Party candidate. Kelly’s campaign described an event this way:

Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.

Someone took this literally. In January 2011, Jared Lee Loughner went on a shooting rampage in a Tuscon grocery store at which Giffords was meeting with constituents. Loughner killed six people and injured 13 others, including Giffords who, as a result of permanent disability resulting from the shooting, resigned from Congress. Investigators later found that Loughner had for months become obsessed with government conspiracy theories such as those spread by GOP and Tea Party candidates.

These events didn’t stop GOP candidates from fear-mongering and suggesting “remedies.”  To the contrary, the goading continued. As the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein wrote in 2011:

Florida Senate candidate Mike McCalister, who is running against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), offered a variation of the much-lampooned line during a speech before the Palms West Republican Club earlier this week.

“I get asked sometimes where do I stand on the Second and 10th Amendment, and I have a little saying,” he declared. “We need a sign at every harbor, every airport and every road entering our state: ‘You’re entering a 10th Amendment-owned and -operated state, and justice will be served with the Second Amendment.’” [Emphasis added.]

These kinds of threats by the GOP against other legislators and even the president have gone unpunished by the leadership of the party. Not a word has come from either House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decrying these statements, and the hyperbole and threats have only continued. Recently, for example, former Illinois GOP Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted and then deleted this threat to the president after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas:

“3 Dallas cops killed, 7 wounded,” former congressman Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, wrote just before midnight in a tweet that is no longer on his profile. “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
Even after the outcry over his recent remarks, Trump has escalated the rhetoric against both President Obama and against Clinton, calling them the “founders of ISIS.” And again no word from the GOP leadership.
This rhetoric is part of a pattern used by the right wing within and outside elections. Anti-choice groups, for example, consistently misrepresent reproductive health care writ large, and abortion specifically. They “target” providers with public lists of names, addresses, and other personal information. They lie, intimidate, and make efforts to both vilify and stigmatize doctors. When this leads to violence, as David Cohen wrote in Rolling Stone this week, the anti-choice groups—and their GOP supporters—shrug off any responsibility.
Some gun rights groups also use this tactic of intimidation and targeting to silence critique. In 2011, for example, 40 men armed with semi-automatic weapons and other guns surrounded a restaurant in Arlington, Texas, in which a mothers’ group had gathered to discuss gun regulations. “Second Amendment people” have spit upon women arguing for gun regulation and threatened them with rape. In one case, a member of these groups waited in the dark at the home of an advocate and then sought to intimidate her as she approached in her wheelchair.
The growing resort to violence and intimidation in our country is a product of an environment in which leading politicians not only look the other way as their constituents and affiliated groups use such tactics to press a political point, but in which the leaders themselves are complicit.
These are dangerous games being played by a major political party in its own quest for power. Whether or not Donald Trump is the most recent and most bombastic evidence of what has become of the GOP, it is the leadership and the elected officials of the party who are condoning and perpetuating an environment in which insinuations of violence will increasingly lead to acts of violence. The more that the right uses and suggests violence as a method of capturing, consolidating, and holding power, the more they become like the very terrorists they claim to be against.

Culture & Conversation Violence

Survivor-Activists Ask Colleges to #JustSaySorry

Katie Klabusich

#JustSaySorry is calling on current and prospective students as well as alumni to post on social media that they will withhold donations until those institutions do the bare minimum: “Issue an acknowledgment and apology to students who feel or have felt less valued and less safe because of the way they’ve responded to campus sexual assault.”

A survivor-led and -centered anti-sexual violence campaign kicks off Monday as the organizers and participants ask college and university administrations to #JustSaySorry for failing to protect their students.

Kamilah Willingham and Wagatwe Wanjuki, co-founders of Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture (SERC), launched #JustSaySorry as a way to call out administrations that often technically have policies in place to address sexual assault, but in reality hinder survivors’ healing by never fully (or even partially) accepting blame for their part. Survivors often receive a monthly reminder of that betrayal in the mail or via email, in the form of a student loan bill or school donation request. (Full disclosure: I recently launched a project on which Wanjuki is participating, unrelated to this campaign.)

According to the campaign press release, #JustSaySorry is calling on current and prospective students as well as alumni to post on social media that they will withhold donations until those institutions do the bare minimum: “Issue an acknowledgment and apology to students who feel or have felt less valued and less safe because of the way they’ve responded to campus sexual assault.”

“We want to educate the world about the power of apology and just how deep institutional betrayal hurts us,” Wanjuki told Rewire. “It will also show the true motivations of schools—do they care that survivors are carrying the weight of the harm they caused? Or were we just a number to them, despite what they claim in brochures attracting new students, wooing parents, and soliciting donations? No matter the outcome of the campaign, the true colors of schools will be revealed.”

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

The campaign ignited with a Facebook livestream of Wanjuki setting literal fire to an item from Tufts University—the school that used a sudden drop in her GPA due to the trauma she experienced following her assault to expel her rather than support her after she reported her rapist. Six years after her Title IX complaint was filed, Tufts was found in violation of the federal gender parity in education statute for its mishandling of her case. Yet, the university continues to be silent on culpability, fueling ongoing trauma for Wanjuki. She’s set to burn as much Tufts gear as necessary to get its attention and solicit at least an apology.

“Schools have so much power over the course of our lives. When they refuse to support the most vulnerable in our society, they are not being the beacons of knowledge and nurturing that they claim to be. They are merely reinforcing the harms and inequalities that plague our communities,” Wanjuki told Rewire.

Willingham’s story was one of those chronicled in the powerful documentary The Hunting Ground. Still, Harvard’s administration continues to add insult to injury, so she has publicly called it out by name.

“Harvard Law already knew they were violating Title IX when I filed a complaint against them. And when they were eventually found in violation, they were forced to change the procedures through which they readmitted my assailant,” said Willingham.

For her, #JustSaySorry is a “common sense” campaign born out of the repeated disappointments that she and Wanjuki have experienced.

“My rapist just graduated while 19 of my former professors very publicly retaliated against me for speaking out,” she explained.

Willingham acknowledges that there’s no “easy fix” for that trauma, but every healing process needs a first step. She says the campaign will give survivors and allies a way to express their expectations while impressing upon administrations how hurt survivors are when their schools don’t respond appropriately or supportively.

While she concedes it’s possible that administrations who think they’re just protecting their schools might not realize they’ve done anything wrong, Willingham isn’t absolving them.

“Maybe there simply hasn’t been enough incentive for them to apologize,” Willingham said. “They don’t apologize for or acknowledge past failures, but we’re supposed to trust that they’re devoted to changing the administrative culture that has failed and hurt students survivors for so long? Nah. Sounds like institutional gaslighting to me. And gaslighting is an effective way to maintain control over the status quo in unbalanced relationships—which makes me think that schools won’t apologize as long as they think they can get away with it.”

Anyone and everyone is encouraged to participate using the hashtag, watch for on-fire livestreams, pledge a university-related item burning, publicly tell your school that you are diverting donations to #JustSaySorry until they apologize, and stay connected with the campaign for other actions and survivor stories. Survivors and allies will be encouraged to share their stories and create calls to action as the campaign evolves and picks up steam.

“I want to highlight and center the stories of the people who are largely overlooked by the media and society as a whole: the survivors of color, gender-nonconforming survivors, poor survivors, immigrant survivors, the ones who had to drop out of school, and the ones who have a low GPA,” Wanjuki told Rewire.

Both women know from their work on campuses nationwide that apologies have power. So many survivors fall through the cracks, so few administrations do the simplest thing to temper their trauma: apologize.

“I know it would mean the world to me if Tufts just acknowledged that I—someone they were supposed to have nurtured academically—felt discarded and betrayed,” said Wanjuki.

Willingham said she reported her assault because she had faith in the administration at Harvard—that with her assailant’s partial confession in writing it would be a straightforward process resulting in justice.

“Wagatwe and I are both very hurt by and very angry at our alma maters—and still struggling to heal from the trauma of sexual assault that was compounded and extended by institutional betrayal,” she said. “There’s no easy fix for that, but an apology would feel so nice. An apology might help relieve me of the burden of wanting to set fire to every student loan bill or fundraising mailer I get from my school.”

credo_rewire_vote_3

Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!

VOTE!

Thank you for supporting our work!