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FSU Responds To NY Times Alleged Rape Investigation Article

By: WCTV Eyewitness News Email
By: WCTV Eyewitness News Email
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A New York Times report published Wednesday morning blasts Florida State University and the Tallahassee Police Department in their handling of a sexual assault investigation involving Seminole quarterback Jameis Winston.

Now, the university is responding.

The report says FSU's Athletic Department broke federal laws when dealing with the case.

In its statement the university is maintaining that it followed protocol.

A website created specifically as a response to the New York Times article hours after it was published Wednesday morning, expresses the university's, "deep disappointment in the article."

The website is fsunytimes.fsu.edu.

The article titled, "A Star Player Accused, and a Flawed Rape Investigation," says FSU's Athletic department knew about the sexual assault accusations against Heisman winning quarterback Jameis Winston as early as January of 2013.

That's 11 months before the case went public.

However, students we talked to still have their uncertainties.

"Just as easily that the school could be covering up the issue, I do think that it would be just as easy for the person who was accusing him to try to drag him down from the spotlight," Alexa Altman, a freshman at FSU said.

On the website responding to the article is a statement saying, "No university official outside the Victim Advocate Program received a report from any complainant naming Winston prior to when the allegations were made public in November 2013."

"I don't think they need to hide it. I think they just need to handle the situation, in my opinion. So if he's playing or not playing, they just need to handle it," Edwin Ricardo a freshman at FSU said.

A championship season driven by a talented red-shirted freshman does raise the question of officials pushing the allegations under the rug.

"I don't believe it, but if it did, it did. But I don't think it happened," Alejandro Rico an FSU freshman said.

The article also said Tallahassee Police did not conduct a thorough investigation.

It said the detective on the case didn't file a report until two months after the incident happened.

The New York Time's story also stated that once the accuser identified Winston, TPD didn't reach out to him until two weeks after.

TPD has not yet responded to the article.

FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY: RESPONSE TO TODAY'S NYT STORY

A message from FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
This message has been approved by Dr. Garnett S. Stokes, Interim President, for distribution to all faculty, staff and students.

This morning the New York Times published a story about an alleged sexual assault involving FSU students. There are many shortcomings in the newspaper's account, and a full response can be found at: http://fsunytimes.fsu.edu [WCTV has posted the response below].

Any disagreement with the New York Times must not distract the University community from our compelling moral obligation to combat sexual assault, which violates human dignity and goes against this University's most deeply held principles. We will not tolerate it, nor will we tolerate any actions that demean or retaliate against victims of sexual assault.

I will do everything I can to ensure that the University learns from this experience and maintains its unwavering commitment to protect the rights and safety of every member of our community.


FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY: RESPONSE TO TODAY'S NYT STORY

The university expresses its deep disappointment in today's New York Times story alleging FSU officials did not properly investigate a rape allegation against Jameis Winston "in apparent violation of federal law." It also vigorously objects to the newspaper's characterization of the university as being uncooperative in explaining its actions.

The university provided the newspaper with a general statement (below) and numerous written answers over a period of weeks. Most of the responses were left out of the story, giving readers an incorrect impression of the university's efforts on behalf of sexual assault victims under Title IX.

Among the points FSU emphasized but were either missing or downplayed in the NYT article:


  • FSU does not tolerate sexual assault. Even one sexual assault is a problem. Like other colleges and universities that are grappling with this issue, we actively provide programs and educate students on safe behavior, the meaning of consent and how to properly report cases of sexual misconduct. Contrary to the article's over-arching theme, FSU takes this matter seriously.

  • State and federal privacy laws govern the university's ability to comment on a particular student or disciplinary matter. This is particularly crucial in cases of sexual assault, where victims may request privacy to heal. To interpret the university's silence as a lack of interest or an insufficient "level of energy" is utterly wrong.

  • The university must balance its duty to investigate sexual assault cases with the welfare of the victim. Many students who contact the Victim Advocate Program make it clear they are only seeking counseling and academic accommodations. They either decline or want to delay the decision to go forward with university or criminal proceedings. Guidance from the U.S. Dept. of Education (April 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter) makes it abundantly clear that the university needs to take these wishes into account. To rush victims or disregard their wishes not to proceed would be re-traumatizing and hinder their recovery.

  • Nevertheless, as part of its services to victims, the Victim Advocate Program always advises its clients about the option to file a criminal or Code of Conduct complaint or both. Advocates often explain the option more than once and even offer to support the victim through every step of the process, including accompanying the victim to the police station or a student Code of Conduct hearing.

  • The article also failed to explain the extent of the other services offered by the university's victim advocates, who are trained and dedicated professionals providing 24-hour, on-call assistance to victims. Among the services are finding a victim or family members a safe place to stay; making referrals to counselors; re-arranging class schedules to accommodate the victim's needs; contacting professors to reschedule exams; finding accommodations for the victim's roommates; planning social accommodations; helping victims drop classes or get copies of their transcripts; and providing support and resources to family members. These accommodations are precisely the type of actions contemplated by the "Dear Colleague" letter and are offered to every victim.

  • The Victim Advocate Program operates under a statute unique to Florida that gives all rape crisis counselors a confidentiality privilege. Advocates cannot breach this confidentiality--even to talk to police--without a waiver from the client.

  • In the case examined by The Times involving Jameis Winston, no university official outside the Victim Advocate Program received a report from any complainant naming Winston prior to when the allegations were made public in November 2013.

  • At no time has there been or is there now a complaint on record from a student referred to by the State Attorney's Office. The university has been aware of the information in The Times article, however, and has fulfilled all of its legal obligations under Title IX.

  • The paper's suggestion that FSU underreports sexual assaults is misleading. The campus statistics used by The Times to make that point do not account for the crucial fact that 83 percent of FSU's students live off-campus, where incidents are handled by the Tallahassee Police Department and are not required to be reported as part of the university's annual campus crime statistics. Despite this, the university provides full victim services to any student regardless of where he or she lives.

The Times has done its readers, as well as the FSU community, a disservice by omitting these answers and by seriously misrepresenting the university's concern and care for its students who are victims of sexual assault.

FSU STATEMENT PROVIDED NYT PRIOR TO 4.16.2014

Following is the full statement the university gave The New York Times prior to today's article:

Like all other colleges and universities, FSU is faced with a balancing act when following the "Dear Colleague" letter. The need to investigate possible harassment must be balanced against the rights of and consent from the complainant. As the letter states: "If the complainant requests confidentiality or asks that the complaint not be pursued, the school should take all reasonable steps to investigate and respond to the complaint consistent with the request for confidentiality or request not to pursue an investigation."

Given the inherent tension within the "Dear Colleague" letter, FSU seeks to empower victims by giving great weight to their wishes when it comes to counseling, academic accommodations and supporting them through criminal or university proceedings. In a great number of cases, the victims make it quite clear that they don't want to file a police report or pursue a Code of Conduct process.

FSU's Title IX/Code of Conduct process has worked well for the vast majority of sexual assault cases. The process has provided victims with the emotional and procedural help they need, and the university has handled dozens of cases over the years that have resulted in the discipline of respondents.


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