Is Florida State Ignoring a Requirement to Investigate Sexual Assault Allegations?

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

The case of Jameis Winston, a quarterback at Florida State University, raises questions about whether the university is ignoring a federal requirement to investigate sexual assault allegations.

Winston has been accused of a sexual assault against a female student at the university and the case has been reported to the Tallahassee police. The original allegation was initially made to university police in December 2012. As yet there is no clear indication that the university has been making any attempt to make its own investigation. It is required to do so by a federal law, Title IX. In this particular case, the police were advised of the allegations because the assault was reported to have taken place off campus.

Winston has denied the allegation and has not actually been charged with any crime. His attorney says that sex between Winston and the woman who has accused him of assault was “consensual”. The statement was released after a DNA test linking Winston with the woman was leaked to the press last week. The alleged victim’s family counter that a rape too place

Title IX is a mandate from the federal government for any educational institution to make its own “prompt, thorough and impartial” investigation of any reported sexual misconduct. A report is supposed to be released within 60 days of the date that an allegation is made. The internal investigation is also independent of any criminal investigation which may or may not be carried out at the same time. In other words, even if a criminal investigation is dropped, this should not stop the institution carrying out its own investigation.

When interviewed by the Tampa B ay Times, the Florida State vice president for university relations, Liz Maryanski, refused to be drawn into stating when an internal investigation, as mandated by Title IX, was initiated, although she did say that the university did comply with the law in this regard.

Allegations of sexual assault can lead to a criminal charge being laid against the person or persons who have been alleged to have been involved. However, they are notoriously hard for prosecutors to prove. Very often, there is little evidence for the assault apart from verbal statements form the alleged victim and evidence can be circumstantial at best. At the same time, the charge of rape or sexual assault is a very serious one and can lead to a criminal conviction if the person charged is found guilty.

In any sexual assault allegation, the person accused will need a good criminal defense lawyer to help defend him or her from any criminal charges laid. Even if the charge is dismissed, there tends to be a social stigma attached to the allegations which make these sorts of allegations different from other crimes. Allegations can make it difficult for the accused to pursue a career or seek promotion in a job and can also seriously affect a person’s family.

In this case, the suggestion is that the university may not have pursued an independent investigation against Jameis Winston because he has become a highly desirable asset to a team that is destined for national prominence. Institutions apparently routinely ignore the law when it comes to internal investigations, but may be involved in litigation if complaints are not addressed. Sexual assaults at a number of universities including Yale, Vanderbilt and the University of Connecticut have led to a number of legal actions against the universities for ignoring Title IX. Some of the female students who have initiated actions against these universities claim they were raped by athletes at the university.