I can't recall what magazine it was in, but I remember reading a list a few years ago that named Tallahassee one of the most dangerous US cities for women to live in. Unfortunately, I didn't see it until long after I was raped in an apartment within eyeshot of Florida State University's football stadium.
FSU has been in the news a lot lately. The football team is ranked second in the nation, and the team's quarterback, Jameis Winston, is currently facing accusations that he raped a female student last year.
The student reported a sexual assault to the Tallahassee Police Department on December 7, 2012; the following month, she named Winston as the man who raped her. It wasn't until the Tallahassee Democrat requested documents less than two weeks ago that the police released any information to the media.
Last week, Tallahassee Police Department Interim Chief Tom Coe told reporters the accuser "broke off contact" with them last February and didn't want to move forward with the case but that it was still open.
When I heard this -- that she supposedly "broke off contact" -- something didn't sit quite right with me. I'll have to tell you about what happened to me to best explain why.
Shortly after the spring semester ended in 1999, I was back in Boca Raton and talking to a guy named Percy*, who I'd met briefly a few months prior, over AIM pretty frequently. He was a member of a very popular fraternity at FSU, and he was spending the summer in his hometown near Fort Walton Beach. We had hit it off online and decided we'd meet up in Tallahassee over the weekend -- a pretty long drive for both of us, but I'd get to see and stay with some of my sorority sisters who had remained in town for the summer term.
I met up with Percy on campus, and we went to one of the local malls to shop and get some food. He was charming and funny, and I was attracted to him. He invited me back to his brother's off-campus apartment, and we drove there in my car. We watched TV for a bit, but it soon turned to making out on his brother's bed.
I was fine with it at first, but Percy started doing things that made me uncomfortable, like biting me VERY hard -- on my arms, chest and abdomen, leaving bruises and breaking skin -- and holding me down even though I was expressing pain.
It was shortly after he started holding me down that I felt penetration. I was still fully dressed, wearing a long skirt, though he had pushed my underwear to the side; sometimes it felt like it was trying to help me keep him out, which actually made it hurt more.
He finished, got off of me, and went to take a shower. I moved to the floor and sat there in shock. I started crying quietly, not quite sure what had just happened. A few minutes later, Percy came back in, dressed in different clothing, and said his friend was there to pick him up and that I couldn't stay -- please lock the door on my way out.
When he left, I pulled out my sorority sister contact list and called several local girls on my Nokia cell phone, hoping to go to one of their apartments immediately. No one picked up. The phone died -- the charger was in the car. I decided to call my mother, and I did so on the landline in the apartment. I told her what happened, and she told me to go to a hotel; she wanted me to come home, but she didn't want me driving another eight hours, especially then. She just wanted me to rest.
When I checked into a hotel, I heard from my sister, who's a lawyer. She told me she'd be there for me if I wanted to press charges. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't even know that I shouldn't wash the clothing and should take pictures of my bruises. I drove home the next day and tried not to think about it ever again.
It didn't work. I saw Percy on campus just a couple weeks into the fall semester, and my heart stopped. I ducked into a bookstore to avoid having him see me, and I decided at that moment I needed to report it. I skipped my late-afternoon class and drove to the Tallahassee Police Department.
I told them what happened, and they put me in the back of a squad car and had me show them the apartment complex where I'd been raped. Back at the station, the detective I spoke to said, "Are you sure you want to pursue this? It's been three months, so it's just he-said/she-said at this point. That doesn't usually go well."
I told them I just knew I needed to report it: It happened, here's his name, here's my account, please do something.
And that's why "broke off contact" sounds so fishy to me. Did I technically break off contact, too? Was I supposed to call them every day to remind them to investigate? Was Winston's accuser supposed to? I can imagine she'd be reluctant considering her family says she received similar discouragement after she reported her alleged rape.
According to a statement from the family released last Wednesday, an attorney friend of the family contacted the Tallahassee Police Department at the family's request and out of concern for the accuser right after she identified Winston; Detective Scott Angulo told the attorney that "Tallahassee was a big football town and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable."
Where in the Tallahassee Special Victims Unit handbook does it say women should be talked out of pursuing justice when they report having been sexually assaulted?
Almost as disappointing as being discouraged by the police department was the reaction I got from some of the sorority sisters I told about my experience. They weren't so much concerned about me as they were about what would happen to our relationship with Percy's fraternity and our reputation on campus. Who would want to party with us if we were going to do fun-killing things like report rape?
I almost can't blame them for their flawed logic. They were young, and they had mixed-up priorities. I can only hope they see more clearly now.
But it turns out they were on to something. The Winston case has revealed that reporting a rape can cause much more harm to one's sorority than not getting invited to parties.
According to Total Frat Move, the Delta Zeta house at FSU -- the very place I called home when I reported my own rape -- has received bomb threats since unconfirmed rumors pinpointed Winston's accuser as a member of the sorority. Their source says one of the sorority sisters' cars, which displayed Delta Zeta letters, was vandalized, and members have been told to not wear their letters in order to avoid harassment.
If this is true, I'm not surprised, and I'm sad to not be surprised. But while I feel terrible for the women who are receiving harassment misguidedly meant for the accuser, I also wouldn't be surprised if the way the accuser's sorority sisters possibly reacted to the situation played a part in her decision to leave FSU last week.
It goes without saying that reporting a rape should never result in the persecution of the accuser; that she should be treated with at least the same presumption of innocence as the alleged perpetrator. But, despite the unfortunate pressure she felt to do so, I'm glad -- for her sake -- that she left. Clearly, FSU and the Tallahassee Police Department have enormous improvements they need to make when it comes to the treatment of those who report sexual assault.
I was hoping they had made some in the last 14 years.