Jamais Winston

Like everyone else not directly involved, I have no idea what happened in the unfolding case against Jamais Winston, the spectacular Florida State freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate who has been accused of sexual assault.

But it was welcome to have Jemele Hill on Mike and Mike this morning trying to provide some context for what women typically go through when they come forward to accuse someone of sexual assault. Contrary to what appears to be widespread opinion and certainly partly influenced by the long shadow of the Duke lacrosse case, false accusations are extremely rare. In reality, virtually every independent expert on the issue regards sexual assault as the most under-reported of all crimes. No doubt, this is in part due to what Hill – whom a family friend tried to rape when she was much younger – described as the process of coming forward as re-victimizing you all over again.

As it happens, before news spread yesterday that Winston’s DNA is a match for that found in the underwear of the accuser, Emily Bazelon wrote in Slate that sexual assault might be massively undercounted in FBI crime statistics and other reporting tools.

A new survey, the National Intimate Partner  and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), which attempts to measure more precisely specifically sexual assault – in comparison with the older National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) – came to the following startling conclusion:

“NISVS counted 1.27 million total sexual acts of forced penetration for women over the past year (including completed, attempted, and alcohol or drug facilitated). NCVS counted only 188,380 for rape and sexual assault. And the FBI, which collects its data from local law enforcement, and so only counts rapes and attempted rapes that have been reported as crimes, totaled only 85,593 for 2010.”

I don’t know that the NISVS is a better instrument than the NCVS. But that is an extraordinary difference – NISVS is reporting a level of incidence seven times higher than NCVS. Elsewhere, Bazelon noted that both the military and the Justice Department have expressed deep concern that the problem of sexual violence against women is being vastly underreported. This not news to the people who work in rape crisis centers and other related lines of work. And of course, there is a nightmare history in this country of false accusations against African American men in this context (Update: among the most notorious cases and one that I had in mind when I first wrote this morning, was the case of the Scottsboro Boys. As it happens, I just saw this in the Times – a posthumous exoneration of the last of them, issued today, eighty years later). But the prevailing picture suggests that the deck is clearly stacked against women wanting to come forward to pursue these kinds of charges in general and that the Tallahassee Police Department may have discouraged the woman in the Winston case in particular from doing so.

I can say that I have a sick feeling about all of this…

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