crimesider

FSU objects to report that school "did little" in Winston case

Jameis Winston talks to reporters on Dec. 13, 2013, in New York. AP Photo

A New York Times report alleging that Florida State University "did little" to investigate an allegation of sexual assault made against star quarterback Jameis Winston, spurred a strong denial from the university Wednesday. FSU issued a statement accusing the newspaper of seriously misrepresenting the university's "concern and care for its students who are victims of sexual assault."

The Times article, written by Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Walt Bogdanich, alleged that university administrators, "in apparent violation of federal law," did not properly investigate a young student's December 2012 rape accusation against Winston. According to the article, records show that the school's athletic department became aware of the rape accusation in January 2013, but did nothing about it and let Winston play the full season without having him answer any questions. It wasn't until January 2014 that university officials attempted to question him, but their requests were denied on the advice of Winston's lawyer, according to the Times.

The newspaper went on to say that the university stopped granting interviews to the Times in mid-February, citing privacy laws.

However, the school said in a statement Wednesday that the university "vigorously objects to the newspaper's characterization of the university as being uncooperative in explaining its actions." The school says they provided the newspaper with numerous written answers "over a period of weeks." The time period in which these responses were issued was not specified.

The university says most of the responses were left out of the story, therefore giving readers an "incorrect impression of the university's efforts on behalf of sexual assault victims..."

The university says they emphasized several important points to the Times, but that the paper unfairly either left these points out or downplayed them. For example, FSU says, it was important for the paper to note that the university does not tolerate sexual assault and that the university "must balance its duty to investigate sexual assault cases with the welfare of the victim."

The school says the article failed to explain the extent of the services offered by the university, including the Victim Advocate Program, which "operates under a statute unique to Florida that gives all rape crisis counselors a confidentiality privilege" and prohibits advocates from talking to police without a waiver from the client.

In the Jameis Winston case, no university official outside the Victim Advocate Program was made aware that there was a sexual assault allegation against Winston until the case was made public nearly a year after the alleged assault, the school said in its statement, adding that the university has fulfilled all of its legal obligations under Title IX.

FSU is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for possible violations of Title IX - a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding. Under Title IX, a college or university that receives federal funds may be held legally responsible when it knows about and ignores sexual assaults in its programs or activities.

USA Today first reported the investigation by the DOE's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on April 4. The investigation stems from a complaint filed by the accuser in the sexual assault case against Winston. The OCR mandates that schools take "prompt and effective action to end harassment and prevent its recurrence."

As part of the OCR investigation, all sexual assault complaints at the university during the last three years will be examined.

Adria Silva, an attorney who represents employees and students in Title IX lawsuits throughout Florida, tells CBS News' Crimesider that while she doesn't know all the facts of the Winston case, in general, if the school is aware of a sexual assault allegation, they have the responsibility to investigate.

The sexual assault allegation against Winston stemmed from an incident in Dec. 2012. The woman, who was also a student at FSU at the time, told police she had been drinking at a bar with friends before going home with a man she didn't know. She said the alleged assault took place at an off-campus apartment, but she couldn't remember where it was.

A month later, she identified her alleged attacker as Winston. Tim Jansen, Winston's attorney, said the sex was consensual and in Dec. 2013, the state's attorney decided not to press charges.

Silva tells Crimesider that even though the alleged incident took place off-campus, the school still has the obligation to investigate under Title IX if the alleged victim "has lost any kind of education opportunity."

For example, if the alleged victim's right to an education was affected in any way or if the alleged victim felt as though she can't go to school as a result of the incident, the school is has to take "immediate effective corrective action."

The alleged victim withdrew from FSU in November, "right after the story broke," because her and her sorority were getting death threats, John Clune, an attorney representing the alleged victim told Crimesider.

"It wasn't safe," he said.

Silva says that even if the alleged victim told the someone at the Victim Advocate Program in confidentiality, the advocate should have informed the school's Title IX coordinator.

"Once you get that complaint, you have a duty to act and protect students from any kind of harassment," Silva told Crimesider.

If the OCR investigation finds the university violated Title IX, the university could lose its federal funding. However, Silva says that its more likely they school will enter into a settlement with the federal government and will change their policies and procedures.

It is unclear if the accuser will pursue a civil case against Winston or the university. Her family has accused the Tallahassee Police Department of delaying the investigation and discouraging her from going forward with the case because of the public attention it would receive. Tallahassee police have defended their handling of the case.

A civil case can still be filed after the OCR investigation, according to the Associated Press.

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    Stephanie Slifer covers crime and justice for CBSNews.com.

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