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In Florida Student Assaults, An Added Burden On Accusers

Last year, the Tallahassee police’s handling of a rape accusation against Florida State’s famed quarterback, Jameis Winston, who denied the allegation, drew attention to the department’s failure to adequately investigate despite bruises on the accuser and semen on her underwear.

Now an examination of other cases from recent years shows a pattern to the handling of sexual assault complaints by Florida State students: After an accuser makes a police report and submits to a medical rape exam, the police ask if she wants them to investigate, and if she does not explicitly agree, they drop the case, often calling her uncooperative.

The pattern emerges from interviews with prosecutors and victims’ advocates, and a review of case files obtained by The New York Times from both the Tallahassee police and the university police, under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

The records provide a look at police practices not just locally, but also nationally. Experts say that what happens in Tallahassee is common, although police forces are being encouraged to alter their habits.

“There are a lot of jurisdictions that are trying to do it better, but it’s still incredibly common that the police just do not do the investigation,” said Rebecca Campbell, a psychology professor at Michigan State University who researches law enforcement treatment of sexual assaults. “They do not treat other crimes this way. If you have a property crime, they don’t say: ‘Would you like me to dust for fingerprints? Would you like me to canvass the area for witnesses?’ ”