A problem larger than Jameis Winston

HeadshotBy Alexa Epitropoulos | gargoyle@flagler.edu

When the sexual assault charges against Jameis Winston were dropped, the reaction was mixed. Some celebrated that the Florida State University quarterback and recent Heisman winner was cleared. Others, including the unidentified victim, thought it could hold others back from reporting similar crimes.

What started in the early morning of Dec. 7, 2012 as a report filed with the Tallahassee Police Department ended with a Dec. 5 announcement from Florida state attorney Willie Meggs that no charges would be filed. In between, the Tallahassee police have been accused of discouraging the witness from moving forward and disregarding crucial evidence to the investigation, including surveillance tapes and cellphone footage of the sexual encounter taken by Winston’s roommate.

Although the accusation may be false, how the case was handled is similar to how rape is handled across the country. Rape continues to be an unspoken crime and one that isn’t taken seriously. More than that, it’s likely Winston’s case will push more victims to not reveal their identities or come forward in the first place.

In the words of the victim’s attorney, Patricia Carroll, the victim has “grave concerns that her experience, as it unfolded in the public eye and through social media, will discourage other victims of rape from coming forward and reporting.”

Winston and his case may be notable, but he isn’t the central problem. His case is only part of a larger culture that does not treat rape as a serious crime and sometimes dismisses rape victims altogether.

With each case, the reality remains the same: women who accuse men, notable or otherwise, of rape and sexual assault are overlooked, vilified and humiliated. When a case is in the public eye, the negative consequences only increase. Accusers often face backlash in the media by talking heads and through social media.

The worst part of Winston’s case is not that it is unusual, but that it is more common than we think. It seems that almost everyone has a female relative or friend that has been raped or sexually assaulted—some have had it happen to them. Some never report sexual assault. Those that do often have the difficult task of proving rape to local law enforcement with limited available evidence.

According to RAINN, there are approximately 237,868 sexual assaults in the U.S. every year, but that only takes into account the reported numbers. Only 40 percent of rape victims report their assault.

The women who do come forward face uncertain odds. RAINN reports that for every 100 rapists, ten are arrested, four are brought charges against and only three receive jail time.

Anytime a rape charge is dropped in the public eye, fewer victims will come forward. Anytime it takes a year to investigate rape charges that are ultimately dropped, fewer will come forward. 

Anytime a potential rape victim is attacked online and on social media, the fear will increase for the thousands of women who are sexually assaulted every year and may choose not to report it.

When headlines about celebrities or athletes being accused of sexual assault surface, people rarely think about the numerous victims that are faceless and nameless when it comes to bringing their attacker to justice. Those that choose to not reveal their identities have a lot to say about the way that rape victims are treated.

More telling than the famous face is the way that the victim was treated in the aftermath. While life for Winston went back to normal in the public eye as soon as the charges were dropped, it’s unlikely that the victim will forget what happened easily. Her story won’t be forgotten either by other victims afraid to report similar crimes to law enforcement.

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