FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who has been accused of sexual battery against a student, will find out today if he faces criminal charges.
Winston, a Heisman trophy front-runner, was accused of raping a fellow student in December last year, but the case was on and off, and re-opened only last month, as Winston continues to play. The case, which has garnered much national attention, has prompted discussion as to how universities should handle sexual violence.
One in four college women have been the victims of rape, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, yet the number of rapes reported on college campuses across the country reflects merely a fraction of that.
When they are reported, the outcomes are often mixed.
At the USF Tampa campus, with a population of more than 41,000 students, three on-campus rapes were reported to University Police (UP) last spring. Seven were reported during 2012, none in 2011, nine in 2010, one in 2009, three in 2008 and two in 2007.
No criminal charges have been held against any of the alleged perpetrators of those crimes.
When UP finishes its investigation, the case is sent to the State Attorney’s Office for prosecution, where investigations re-start. But the State Attorney’s Office’s burden of proof is often higher than the police’s threshold, often requiring physical evidence or DNA, which must be collected within the first 120 hours of the incident, to be provided in order for prosecution to be held.
But even if cases are dropped by the State Attorney’s Office, students may face charges from the university’s Code of Conduct.
Since 2007, five of the seven alleged perpetrators who have been given a hearing by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibility (OSSR)’s University Conduct Board – a panel of students, faculty and staff who determine the sanctioning of those found in violation of the university’s Code of Conduct – have been found responsible of violations of “sexual battery or rape.”
The sanctions the Board is able to issue for any Code of Conduct violation vary in nature, ranging from issuing a warning to permanently expelling a student.
During the 2012-13 school year, two alleged perpetrators whose DNA was found to match DNA found on condoms collected from the reported rape, according to police reports, were heard by the Conduct Board.
One was suspended for a semester, removed from USF Housing, restricted from living in or visiting residence halls, prohibited from contacting the victim and was signed up for an alcohol education course. The other was suspended for two semesters, restricted from living in or visiting residence halls, prohibited from contacting the victim, enrolled in an offender’s education program and required to set up a meeting with OSSR two weeks prior to re-enrolling.
Over the past five years, only four students have been expelled from the university – one for theft, one for illegal drug use and distribution, one for weapons and threats/injurious behavior and one for sexual misconduct.
OSSR Director Winston Jones said the sanctions are decided based on a process once the cases come to the attention of the Conduct Board.
“First we make sure a case doesn’t reach the litmus of danger,” Jones said. “If it reaches litmus of danger, cases are expedited based on nature of those kind of cases. It would jump ahead of a case like alcohol.”
The investigation is then re-opened by Title IX-trained coordinators and victims, alleged suspects and witnesses are re-interviewed.
“The preponderance of evidence needs to be 50 percent plus-plus that we believe there is enough evidence that it more than likely happened,” Jones said. “If there is any doubt, we move forward with the investigation.”
Different crimes have different severities, he said. Drugs aren’t quite like alcohol violations.
Drugs could bring dealers to campus, he said. Dealers could bring violent crime – violent crime that is “not personal,” but at random, he said. There are differences in using and supplying.
But some things, Jones said, can’t be rectified, and for those the option of expulsion is brought in.
“Some violations are so severe that there can be no reconciliation with the institution – typically killing, death, if someone is severely hurt, drug dealing and manufacturing and the selling of drugs,” he said. “Anytime there is a physical or sexual assault, expulsion is an option.”
But when deciding the sanctions of any crime, the Board must juggle the safety and security of the community with learning outcomes, Jones said.
“The goal is not to punish,” he said. “The goal is that the community is safe and you understand and turn around.”
But, he said, universities in general are coming to a tipping point in raising the question as to whether there should ever be a place at a university for someone found responsible of rape.
“As laws become more refined to Title IX, the Violence Against Women Act and the responsiveness by institutions, you might start to see more sanctioning,” he said.
Nanci Newton, director for the Center of Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention, said USF as an institution has always been responsive to the needs of victims. While she said the justice system has not been built to support the needs of victims, she said the OSSR works hard to make sure victims rights are protected, and the Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention works with the victim to rearrange schedules or housing if necessary and providing constant support to victims.
Much of the change necessary to provide a culture supportive of victims’ needs must start at the citizen level, she said, and creating an active bystander culture that is against victim blaming is important, and something the university has always prioritized.
“Victims don’t always get what they want, in life or in the outcome,” she said. “But whether or not the outcome is what the victim wanted, they’re no less of a survivor and the university makes sure they’re not just listened to. They’re heard.”