Predator and Prey:

The epidemic of rape

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One sexual assault is too many. Sadly, the statistics do not tell the whole story. Each sad number represents a person: a father, a brother, a son, a mother, a sister, a daughter. Sexual violence is a problem that crosses gender, race, socioeconomic, and cultural boundaries.

The 2015 documentary, The Hunting Ground, explores sexual assault on American college campuses. The complexities of the rape crisis that has infected our institutions are many: the lack of victim reporting, the general callousness of law enforcement, and the desire of University administrations to downplay the extent of the problem. This film centered around one young woman’s horrifying tale of assault and both the private and public, sanctioned and unsanctioned responses to her accusations.

Erica Kinsman was a freshmen enrolled at Florida State University in Tallahassee in the fall of 2012. It was the end of semester, a week before final examinations. She was at a bar and met a man that “rescued” her from an uncomfortable situation with another stranger, and offered her a shot. Subsequently, she later left the bar in a taxi with three men that she did not know. It was not her character to go home with men and was never the case where she would leave with three strangers. Kinsman suspects that she was drugged. It must be noted that no drugs were found in her system. Nonetheless, her memory of the ensuing events are incomplete and fuzzy, but she recalls that she was undressed, locked in a bathroom facedown on a cold tile floor and raped by a large powerful African American man. Imagine her continued suffering when her attacker was “kind” enough to give her a ride home on his scooter and she was forced to hold onto him, although disgusted by him. Scared by the prospect of her assailant knowing her address, she had the man drop her at a busy intersection, where she tweeted for help.

An evening out to relax and unwind from the pressures of final exams turned into a four year nightmare. Her tweet was answered by a trusted friend and the two of them proceeded to the emergency room of the Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. The staff at the hospital treated her with compassion and followed all of their protocols while treating her as a victim of sexual assault. It was the last time she would be treated fairly and professionally by people in authority.

With the information Erica provided, the Tallahassee Police Department could have: identified and questioned the suspect and his two friends the next day, obtained video from the 30 surveillance cameras at the bar where she met the suspect, located the cab driver who drove Erica and the suspect from the bar. They did none of these” (Dick, The Hunting Ground).

At the start of her next semester, in her first class, she watched in horror as her attacker walked into the same room. She did not know his name until near the end of the roll call and he raised his hand in affirmation of his name, Jameis Winston. He was the starting quarterback for the Florida State University Seminoles as they pursued the coveted football national championship. Erica was told by the investigating police detective, Scott Angulo, a Florida State University graduate and fundraiser for the school, “This is a huge football town. You really should think long and hard about whether you want to press charges or not.” The authorities did not wait for Erica to think at all about pursuing any charges. Their thoughts were soft and short.

The Tallahassee Police Department and FSU police refused to obtain a DNA sample from Winston for almost ten months. It wasn’t until a year later that the filed complaint was turned over to the state’s attorney and the rape kit sample was tested. The DNA taken from Jameis Winston matched the semen sample swabbed from Erica Kinsman following her attack. Despite the positive match, Winston was arrogant enough to claim that the sexual liaison was consensual. State’s Attorney, Willy Meggs, agreed with his star player.

His reputation intact and the Seminoles quest for a championship on track, everything returned to normal for Winston, the football team, the University, and the community at large. Nothing was normal for Erica Kinsman. Receiving death threats and having her honesty and virtue questioned on campus and on social media, she abandoned her dream of an Florida State education and chose to leave the University.

In early 2016, Kinsman and her lawyers reached an agreement to settle out of court for $950,000. Many will wrongfully accuse her and other victims of sexual assault of fabricating these stories in an effort to extort money. It is beyond common sense to think that a woman would cry rape, expose herself to public and private humiliation, for a few dollars.

A civil resolution with no criminal charges does not mean that there was no criminal behavior. Often it is the best decision for all parties to avoid a lengthier criminal process, that would incur greater expense for the defense and the prosecution. Furthermore, in the case where there are culpable institutions, it is finally in their best interest to settle the case and have it disappear from the public spotlight.

Sadly, this is the world that we live in. Lady justice may be blind, but those that she stares down upon see all too well when there is an opportunity to settle cases with large sums of money, and no final verdict of the truth. It is not a question of justice or morality. When those responsible for allowing this behavior and then desiring to keep it secret come to understand that there will be a huge financial punishment, only then will they become moral institutions.

No charges were filed against the revered #5 and he enjoyed all the benefits of the remainder of his Florida State University athletic career and was subsequently drafted into the National Football League. His dream lived on.

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In a perfect world, the truth would lead us to a place where sexual victimization does not exist and no one would endure its consequences. Solutions and answers are hard to obtain, but starting a national public discourse, exposing it to the light, is the first small step.

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