"There's Nothing Extraordinary About What Happened"

[Content Note: Rape culture.]

Last night, my friend and amazing activist Jessica Luther appeared on The Last Word with guest host Ari Melber to discuss the Jameis Winston case and the New York Times article published yesterday about the flawed investigation.

One of the main points Jess wanted to make is that the Winston case is not an exception, but a frustratingly typical example of the barriers to justice that many survivors face, and she did an excellent job making that point. This isn't just about "football culture," but about rape culture.

Below, is video with complete transcript.

Ari Melber, anchor, a young white man, on-screen: In the spotlight tonight, college football and a flawed rape investigation. The New York Times is out with a scathing report today about the failures in the investigation of Florida State University student's rape accusation against star quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. In an in-depth investigative report, the Times recounts failure after failure, by both the Tallahassee police department and Florida State University in this troubling case.

Beginning on December 7, 2012, when the accuser first went to the police, to November 12, 2013, nearly a year later, when police finally obtained DNA samples from Jameis Winston, to December 5, 2013, when prosecutors announced they weren't pursuing the case further, it has left critics asserting that both the police department and the school were giving preferential treatment to Winston because he's a football player in a college town that lives for its football team. And not any ordinary team or player, but a team that was on the verge of winning a national championship, and a star quarterback who was about to win, as I said, the Heisman Trophy.

The New York Times provides a laundry list of inadequacies here, that includes the failure to immediately interview two people who witnessed this sexual encounter [sic]; as a result of that failure, one of those witnesses went on to delete a video that he had taken of the encounter [sic] before police could ever review it. The paper reports that detectives failed to review surveillance video at the bar where Winston and the accuser met, and, when a detective finally contacted Winston, he just did so by phone, which, of course, would give someone who is a potential suspect time to call a lawyer and refuse to answer any further questions—that's what he did.

It also left the Florida State Attorney, Willie Meggs, answering questions about the police during a press conference this past December.

[cut to video of press conference in which Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs, an older white man, is answering questions at a press conference; text onscreen: "Question: Was there any indication that they mishandled the case in any way early on?"]

Meggs: That will be something that others will have to decide. I'm, I'm not trying to decide that. [edit] We worked very closely with the police department; obviously, it would've been somewhat better if we had, uh, all gotten involved a little earlier. But, uh, uhhhhh, uh, we were involved from beginning on November the 13th and, uh, we worked hand in glove with them since then, and they've been most cooperative, and we've accomplished all the things that we feel like we need to accomplish. [edit] We might've had some additional facts earlier, uh, there might've been some better memories—I don't know. Uh, time is important; it certainly would have been nice to, uh, to have known all the things we know now back in December.

[cut back to the studio]

Melber: Joining me now is Jessica Luther, who's been reporting on this story extensively for the Nation magazine, and Faith Jenkins, an MSNBC legal analyst and attorney—welcome to you both.

Jenkins, a young black woman who is sitting in the studio with Melber: Thank you.

Melber: Jessica, let me start right with you—

Luther, a young white woman who appears via satellite on a screen in the studio with Melber and Jenkins: Sure.

Melber: —having covered this for awhile, what is your view of what we learned today in this exhaustive New York Times report, and what it tells us broadly about the way we handle sexual assault cases on campuses in this country, and particularly when big sports is involved?

Luther: Okay. Ah, part of me was not surprised at all; I think that Willie Meggs was really understating how much the Tallahassee PD did not do, and that was pretty clear— Meggs released a two hundred and forty-eight page report about the case at the time that he announced that he was not pressing charges, and anyone who read through that, which I did, multiple times, it was pretty clear that the Tallahassee police department just didn't do their job. And, as you said, you know, they didn't follow—he didn't follow up immediately; they didn't go to the bar; they didn't call the cab company. They could have actually identified him immediately, had they taken up the details that she gave them. And they just didn't do any of that. So, I wasn't surprised by that aspect of the report.

I didn't know as much about the FSU side, and their Title IX, um, the fact that they didn't follow through as they should, under Title IX, but, at the same time, that's not uncommon, either. So, right now we—I think there are two grassroots organizations that are helping women across the country file reports with the, uh, Office of Civil Rights against their universities for failing to, um, do what they need to under Title IX. And we just had, uh, the University of Missouri—there was a case that ESPN broke, um, from a couple years ago, and they did an independent investigation—

Melber: Right.

Luther: —and just last week they found that Missouri hadn't done what it was supposed to do under Title IX.

Melber: Right. Jessica, and let me bring in Faith here—um, when you look at the potential crime here that is alleged, as a very serious felony in Florida, up to fifteen to thirty years sexual battery, which includes rape, and you look at this case, and you say: "We don't know the whole story, and the gentleman is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law." But why wasn't this investigated better? It's outrageous when you read it.

Jenkins: Right, right. There's no reason that a full and complete investigation should—should not have been done here. I mean, here, here you have an alleged victim [sic] who came forward, who gives a credible account of an assault, a violent crime, committed against her; it was reported immediately afterward; she called her friends; her friends called the police; she then went to the hospital; the parole—the patrol officers responded, and then they called the special victims detective who was on duty. So all of those things happened accordingly.

Then, that detective—this is where it gets so perplexing for me: This is a special victims detective. He is trained, and specially trained to investigate these kinds of cases. Sexual assault cases are incredibly difficult to investigate and prove, but here you have a young lady who comes forward and gives you a name of someone—

Melber: Mm-hmm.

Jenkins: —who tells you that that person is a football player at the school, and also tells you that there are apparent witnesses to this assault. So the first thing you do, you try to find out who those people are. The fact that they were at a bar, and she says they left the bar, and that this bar is known in that particular town—

Melber: Mm-hmm.

Jenkins: —to have thirty surveillance videos, and that this detective did not follow up and try to get video— Detectives do that for fistfights. They do that for purse snatchings. But here you have someone saying that they were, they were sexually assaulted, and the fact that this detective didn't even go and try to get the video—that is appalling to me. And I don't understand why that wasn't done. There's really no excuse for it.

Melber: And Jessica—

Luther: Mm-hmm.

Melber: —do you read that as entirely a function of the power of football in this community?

Luther: No, I don't. I mean, I went to Florida State, um, over a decade ago, and I recognize the bar that they talk about in the piece, and the sort of alcohol culture—um, none of that seems to have changed. But the fact that he's a football player I think probably exacerbated everything in this case, maybe it's a little more extreme—

Melber: Mm-hmm.

Luther: —but twenty percent of women who go to college, before they leave, are raped. Um, there are huge problems with reporting on college campuses, because of instances like this: Women don't feel comfortable coming forward and going to the authorities. Um, we know that possibly more than ten percent of high school girls are raped before they leave high school. Um, the fact that, at that age, just at, you know, eighteen, nineteen, they already have a fear of authority and reports, um, shows how deep this goes. I think when it comes to football, definitely it matters; it's extremely profitable—I think in 2011, it was like 34 million dollars that FSU's football team brought in.

Melber: Mm-hmm.

Luther: All those things matter. But, at the same time, we have to remember that this is not uncommon; there's nothing extraordinary about what happened, and that's a big part of what we need to be focused on.

Melber: Well, you're— I, yeah, I appreciate the point, and, Jessica, what you're speaking to is almost the other aspect of this, which is: We're focusing it this partly because of the fame of one of the individual's involved, when it's all too common for many other people whose names we never heard of.

Luther: Right.

Melber: Ah, Jessica Luther and Faith Jenkins—thank you both for your time tonight.
The thing is, there are a lot of problems with the current paradigm in which the only recourse for a survivor is through a criminal justice system which is corrupt, and which itself is compromised by endemic sexual abuse. There is virtually no will to focus on rehabilitation, and rape is not a corrective for rape culture. But as long as this is the only recourse survivors have, that system should work for survivors, not to protect predators.

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