Sexual assault charges against star athletes are often a kind of poison, one that acts less on the athlete in question than the woman who says she is the victim. It’s a story that has played out since the 1990s at a depressingly long list of universities. The latest controversy involves a rape allegation against Jameis Winston, Florida State University’s Heisman-contending quarterback. Tallahassee, Fla., prosecutor William Meggs has yet to say whether he’ll charge Winston. The decision could be weeks away, his office says. Meanwhile, Winston’s team is 11–0 and scheduled to play for the ACC championship on Dec. 7. The deadline for Heisman Trophy voting is two days later. So the delay looks good from the point of view of Winston and the Seminoles—and bad for the alleged victim, from whose perspective the case is already a mess.
Here’s what we know: The woman accusing Winston is an FSU student, like him. They had sex on Dec. 7, 2012—the police tested her underwear and found his DNA. Winston, through his lawyer, says she consented and he did nothing wrong. She continues to say the opposite. "To be clear, the victim did not consent," her family said in a recent statement. "This was a rape."
At the time of the alleged assault—now almost a year ago—the woman went to the campus police. The Tallahassee Police Department took the case because the alleged assault took place off campus. The university, though, still has a responsibility to investigate under Title IX, the federal law that mandates such inquiries.
The victim says that at first her alleged assailant was “unknown” to her and that she figured out it was Winston in early January. At that point, she and her family started worrying about the ramifications of accusing an FSU player, one with the potential to lead his team to a national championship. They asked a lawyer who was a friend of the family to talk to the police on the victim’s behalf. That lawyer, Patricia Carroll, says Detective Scott Angulo told her, “Tallahassee was a big football town and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.” If that’s true, it sounds like the police were trying to make this case go away.
Carroll says she told Angulo the police needed to take a DNA test so the woman could decide what to do next. She also says she kept pressing for the collection of samples, but Angulo demurred, saying the police wouldn’t collect DNA from Winston because then the case would go public.
There the case sat, stalled for months, while Winston stayed on the FSU team. It turned out that without the woman knowing, the police told the quarterback’s lawyer about the allegations last February. When she found out about that earlier this month, the woman said she was “devastated” that he’d had “all of this time to create his defense and prepare his witnesses.” She and her family have asked a series of questions: Why did the police wait until recently to conduct DNA testing? Why didn’t they begin last winter by interviewing Winston and his roommate, who the woman says witnessed the alleged assault?
While those questions remain unanswered, it came to light that the Tallahassee city manager had been telling other city officials that the woman had “changed her mind and did not wish to prosecute.” The manager also said that before the alleged assault, the woman had gotten drunk at a local bar, even though the police had blood work showing that she hadn’t been drinking.