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Headline Opinions — 23 April 2014

By Lauren Ridenour

Recently, the Tallahassee police force and Florida State University came under fire for not investigating a sexual assault case in due time. The accused is Jameis Winston, quarterback of the Florida State Seminole football team. After the victim came forward over a year ago, police failed to investigate properly, as they took 342 days after the initial report to interview a key witness and obtain DNA sample from the accuser’s clothing.

In fact, the detective handling the case waited two months to begin even his first report, and he then suspended his inquiry without informing the accuser. When the prosecutor finally got the case, evidence had disappeared, including the video of the sexual act.

According to The New York Times investigation,

“Records show that Florida State’s athletic department knew about the rape accusation early on, in January 2013, when the assistant athletic director called the police to inquire about the case. Even so, the university did nothing about it, allowing Mr. Winston to play the full season without having to answer any questions.”

So, why was there no investigation? The Florida State Seminoles operate on a huge budget, generating millions of dollars for the athletic department and local businesses in Tallahassee. Perhaps rape may be an unpleasant incident to be associated with the Seminoles, so they swept it under the rug. Rape charges may get in the way of profits, so they prioritized income over prosecution.

Public image is important, too. With a town that so impassioned over college football, why drag a man’s name through the mud? For them, his status is more important than a rape investigation.

My biggest issue is the quick response to stand behind the accused rather than the victim. When the athletic department and student body jumps to defend the football player based on his athletic skills and his name, there lie huge issues of not only accountability, but also justice.

Unfortunately, reasons like these—lack of police investigation, image of the victim (and often image of the accused), fear and uncertainty—allow rape and sexual assault reports to go severely underreported. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 60-70 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to police. Of these rapes and sexual assaults, 73 percent are committed by a non-stranger.

Rather than the creepy man hiding in the bushes that shows like Law and Order: SVU and Criminal Minds have often portrayed as the perpetrator, these crimes occur much more frequently by family, friends and acquaintances. Common misconceptions about rape impede reporting and prevent victims from seeking justice against their rapists.

No matter their status or relationship or a perceived notion that “he would never do that,” we must provide due process and justice to those survivors of sexual assault and rape. When we chose not to prosecute and then allow them to be lauded with praise for their accomplishments on the field, we throw the rapist’s priority in the victim’s face. It discredits sexual assault survivors and empowers perpetrators.

We cannot allow a rapist’s status and social standing to be worth more than their crime and subsequently their victims. Close to home, we see Brendan Gibbons of the University of Michigan football team charged with sexual misconduct, but expelled nearly four years later. We cannot allow our idolization of these players to allow for another injustice to be placed against these survivors and future victims of sexual assault and place their rapists above the law.

Athletes are citizens, too. The mistakes they make and crimes they commit should have the same legal consequences and due process investigation. The poor handling of this case is not rare, but hopefully with proper exposure and criticism, we can move towards a more fair and just system.

Photo via Reuters

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About Author

Lauren Ridenour is a senior from Troy, Michigan, majoring in English and Anthropology/Sociology. Interested in features and campus issues, she has written and edited for the paper for three years.

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