Ugly treatment of Jameis Winston's accuser serves to only discourage future victims

In the 11 months since allegations that Jameis Winston sexually assaulted a Florida State coed first surfaced, Jennifer Dritt has sat through countless meetings with rape survivors, including plenty from the FSU student ranks itself, and watched a disturbing trend grow right before her.

"All of them say the same thing now, 'I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever report a sexual assault after what has been said of the victim,'" said Dritt, the executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, which is located in Tallahassee, Fla. "After seeing how this has been handled and seeing her dragged through the mud, they just can't imagine coming forward now.

"There's been a chilling effect," Dritt said. "It's damaging. It's so damaging."

The Winston case remains in the news as Florida State now attempts to hold a disciplinary hearing concerning the star quarterback's role in the alleged assault that occurred in the early morning hours of December 7, 2012. It plays in the backdrop as the Seminoles push for a second consecutive national title and host Notre Dame on Saturday in the big game of the week.

Jameis Winston answers a question during ACC media day. (AP)
Jameis Winston answers a question during ACC media day. (AP)

Last December, Winston avoided prosecution when state's attorney William Meggs deemed there was insufficient evidence to press charges, in part because of a bungled Tallahassee Police Department investigation.

Dritt was supportive of Meggs after that decision. She's anything but some blind advocate looking to take down a Heisman winner.

That doesn't mean she isn't troubled by the continued actions of what she believes is a small, but frenzied group of Seminoles fans who have taken to defending Winston by attacking the woman at all costs, labeling her a liar or an opportunist seeking money. They are encouraged by bold and overwhelming support from the FSU athletic department and coaches, not to mention heated accusations by Winston's defense team claiming the case is nothing more than a motivated and purposefully false allegation.

While the Winston case has served as an opportunity to educate the public on how sexual assaults occur and has shined a necessary light on poor police work, the backlash has wiped out many of the positive gains.

"Some people hoped it would just go away, but as it's become clear it's not going to go away, certain people are pushing back on the victim," Dritt said. "I think there are actually less people supporting Jameis now, but they have ratcheted up the rhetoric that this is a case about a false accusation.

"This isn't about a false allegation though," she said. "It's not consistent with a false allegation. It's not at all consistent with that."

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I don't know if Jameis Winston sexually assaulted the woman. Neither do you.

I also don't know if he didn't. And neither do you.

The Tallahassee Police Department did such a shoddy job looking into the case that it's unlikely anyone other than the people involved definitively know, and that is almost certainly a matter of disagreement.

I agree with the local state's attorney that for myriad reasons there isn't enough to charge Winston with a crime, let alone convict. If Winston is innocent, it needs to be repeated, this has been a disservice to him. He'll never get his reputation back.

What I also believe is the woman involved believes, 100 percent, that Winston sexually assaulted her. That doesn't mean he did. Perhaps her recollection isn't the proper one or she was confused. We don't know.

She believes it, though. She completely believes it and always has believed it. Her actions that night, and in the ensuing weeks, are, I believe, consistent with her believing it. If she believes it 100 percent, then she isn't making it up.

"It's clear that she does not believe she gave consent," Dritt said. "While he may believe he had consent, she doesn't believe it."

And that is important to consider. Especially as the Free Jameis movement has continued to push into darker and more troubling places, and as his defense team has turned to an unfortunate offense.

"This is a scheme, this is shakedown of a college student because he's prominent and he's going to make a lot of money," one of Winston's attorneys told Sports Illustrated this week.

This column isn't to say Winston is guilty, Winston should be charged, Winston should be expelled or Winston should be benched. It doesn't come with any expectation from the school judicial hearing, who, if it ever even hears the case, will likely see the thin evidence available and deem it, as Meggs did, as a he-said, she-said that seems impossible to rule on.

It's just a reminder, for the sake of decency, to pause and, as Seminole coach Jimbo Fisher said this week, consider, "the facts of the case" as it pertains to whether this woman really is the kind of awful human that would engage in a false-reporting shakedown scheme.

Because I 100 percent believe she isn't. And I 100 percent believe the fallout from such baseless claims sadly reverberate far past a single case and out into a society that is just beginning to come to grips with sexual assault.

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Various statistics ranging from the FBI to the Department of Justice say just 2 to 8 percent of sexual assault allegations are false. To falsely accuse someone of rape is a crime, as it should be. It's an evil, evil thing to do. That's probably why it's relatively rare.

Common sense, and FBI studies, says this isn't one of those cases.

On Dec. 7, 2012, at 3:22 a.m. ET, the Florida State University police received a call from a female friend of the woman looking to report a "sexual batter[y] by an unknown subject," according to the investigative report by James Newlin of the State Attorney's Office.

Jameis Winston (5) warms up before Florida State's win over Clemson. (USAT)
Jameis Winston (5) warms up before Florida State's win over Clemson. (USAT)

The woman had been driven on a scooter to a corner near her dorm by, she would much later learn, Jameis Winston at about 2 a.m. She soon went to her room and via text and phone call told her friend she had been raped at a nearby apartment. The friend came over and soon called the FSU police.

An officer was dispatched to the dorm, took an initial statement and then contacted the Tallahassee Police Department because the incident took place off campus. At 4:10 a.m. a TPD officer arrived for another interview and the collection of clothes she wore for possible evidence.

The woman was then transported to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital where "a sexual assault examination was performed," per the report.

An additional interview was conducted at the hospital until it was determined that due to exhaustion, things could wait until the next day. That night the woman got word to her parents in the Tampa area about what happened. They immediately drove to Tallahassee, "my dad went like 100 the whole way," the woman texted one of her friends later. The woman also informed a number of her friends.

The next day, at 3:45 p.m., the woman went to the Tallahassee police and sat for a detailed interview that was recorded both via video and audio.

At no time did she name her alleged assailant because she didn't know who it was.

It wasn't until Jan. 10, 2013, more than a month after the alleged incident, that the woman walked into one of her FSU classes, recognized the man and waited for roll call to hear his name … Jameis Winston.

She called the TPD and left a message with the reporting officer. He called back the next day and was directed to the woman's aunt, who is also an attorney, and who expressed immediate concern about going forward because Winston, a heralded recruit expected to be FSU's next starting quarterback, was, "a big name on campus," according a TPD police report.

So … for this to be a false accusation of rape, for this woman to be making this entire thing up in an effort to get Jameis Winston or take down FSU football or to scheme for money or to do it out of scorn or revenge, for this woman to not believe 100 percent that she was, indeed, raped, to believe she never consented to sex that night, the following would've had to occur.

• She needed to immediately tell a friend she was assaulted.

• She needed to have that friend call the police and subject herself to questioning.

• She needed the first police department to call a second police department for another interview and evidence collection.

• She needed all of this to occur in her dorm, where the presence of police, and thus the painful reason for their presence, would surely be known by all of the other students.

• She needed to admit she was out drinking despite being underage. She needed to admit she left a bar alone with three men when she didn't even know their names. She needed to admit getting in a cab and going to their apartment. All of this is behavior that would be, for many, embarrassing or even shameful to discuss.

• She needed to willingly go to the hospital and endure a rape kit, which, by all accounts, is one of the most dehumanizing and humiliating experiences a person can go through.

• She needed to have another talk with police at the hospital and discuss her drinking and actions that night with medical professionals. She needed to willingly subject herself to a toxicology test.

• She needed to wake her parents in the middle of the night and talk to them about being assaulted, while acknowledging behavior (drinking, leaving the bar with strange men, etc.) that they presumably would disapprove. How many women want to discuss sex, in any way, shape or form, with their father?

Jameis Winston runs off the field after Florida State's win over Oklahoma State on Aug. 30. (AP)
Jameis Winston runs off the field after Florida State's win over Oklahoma State on Aug. 30. (AP)

• She needed to tell more friends of this behavior the next day, even though the least humiliating thing she could have ever done was never tell anyone where she was. Other than Winston and his two FSU teammates he lived with, no one knew where she went that night. Had she been embarrassed by consensual actions, she could've just remained silent and hoped to never run into guys she didn't even know again.

• She needed to go to the TPD the next afternoon for an additional interview, which was recorded. She needed to file a false police report knowing that, if it were proven she lied, she would be prosecuted. She needed to repeatedly lie to the police, another crime.

So she did all of that, she subjected herself to what was likely embarrassment over her actions and the incident to her parents, friends, dormmates, police, nurses and so on, underwent the horror of a rape kit, she did all of that to accuse … no one.

No one.

Not Jameis Winston. Not an FSU football player. Not someone she was trying to get back at or wanted the attention of or whatever other motivation there might be.

She accused no one. She had no name. She had no real identification. She had nothing.

Remember, she didn't realize it was Winston until over a month later, where, now with so much time between the incident that, should she have been making this up or embellishing it or just doing it as some sick plan to get attention and sympathy, she could've let it fade off forever without any consequence.

According to FBI studies of false reports, it would actually be more believable – although still extremely unlikely – that she invented the entire thing if she had never found Winston. More plausible, although extremely unlikely, is that she had invented an unknown (and thus assuredly never to be found) attacker.

Instead she called the cops and found their suspect for them despite immediately realizing that he was a big name and this would complicate her life and this case immensely.

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Sorry, I don't believe she did all that to falsely accuse Winston of a crime. I don't believe those are the actions of a woman who is just making up a story to take money from a future professional athlete – one who had yet to take a snap for FSU.

I don't believe that is how a woman out to wrongly accuse someone, anyone, would act. I don't believe anyone interested in doing such a wicked thing to another person would concoct the whole story and not even accuse an actual person for over a month. What's the point?

"You don't believe it," Dritt said, "because you shouldn't. It's not consistent with a false allegation."

Instead, I 100 percent believe those are the actions of a woman who 100 percent believes Jameis Winston sexually assaulted her.

That doesn't mean he did it. It doesn't mean she is right. Again, she may not remember it correctly. There is a debate over consent. And when it came to prosecuting Winston, believing someone believes isn't (and shouldn't be) enough.

I don't know what happened. Neither do you.

It does mean, however, that any defense of Winston or FSU that relies on attacking the woman, or belittling victimhood, or calling her an extortionist, or claiming the facts show it was all made up, or brushing it all aside as supposedly one big lie is wrong in every imaginable way.

There are far better ways to defend or support Jameis Winston than attacking the woman with wild talk of evil plots and fake charges and motivations of money. Those are just a reprehensible ploy to fire up the worst kind of Seminole fans, because that has ramifications outside just this case.

"That's a problem," Dritt said. "That's what keeps getting louder."

As the debate over what happened that night goes on and on and on, I believe that is worth remembering, that attacking the accuser is just awful.

The woman who believes she was raped deserves that much. And so does the next one.