FSU reaches $950,000 settlement with former student in sexual assault case

President says 'we would have prevailed' but chose to limit cost to taxpayers

Florida State University (FSU) reached a $950,000 settlement with a former student who sued the institution, accusing school officials and local police of taking "steps to ensure" her alleged rape by football star Jameis Winston "would not be investigated either by the university or law enforcement."

The accuser, Erica Kinsman, agreed to drop her Title IX lawsuit against FSU as part of the deal.  She sued the school in 2015 as "Jane Doe" but went public with her story in last year's documentary about campus rape, "The Hunting Ground."

FSU President James Thrasher released a statement Monday announcing the settlement and saying the school avoided a lawsuit to limit legal expenses that taxpayers would have to pay.

"With all the economic demands we face, at some point it doesn't make sense to continue even though we are convinced we would have prevailed," he said.

Background: Victim alleges inaction; FSU says she never made a statement

Kinsman says that when she identified Winston to police as the person who allegedly raped her in December 2012, the detective warned her attorney about the challenges Kinsman and her family would face pressing a case against a star player in a "big football town." The interim police chief at the time, however, says Kinsman told him she did not want to continue with the case.

Winston maintains the sex was consensual. He informed the athletics department of the allegation, but because no charges were filed against him, the department did not notify FSU's Title IX administrator.

Legally, schools must investigate sexual assault allegations regardless of whether criminal charges are filed. Thrasher says FSU officials could not open an investigation because Kinsman never provided a statement—although he says they asked her for one nine times in 20 months.

90% of schools reported zero rapes last year—but that doesn't mean none occurred

The school did not begin a disciplinary process until two years after the allegations of sexual assault, and the resulting hearing found there was insufficient evidence that Winston violated the institution's honor code. He was also never charged with a crime.

FSU—along with nearly 200 other institutions—remains under investigation by the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights.

FSU makes changes to address concerns about student safety, victims' rights

Thrasher says the university has made a number of changes to ensure student safety from sexual assault, including

  • creating a sexual assault prevention task force;
  • increasing the number of campus safety staff;
  • mandating that all freshmen complete an online course on relationships and sex;
  • hiring an interpersonal violence expert as the school's Title IX coordinator; and
  • publishing a victims' rights handbook.

"I am happy that FSU has committed to continue making changes in order to ensure a safer environment for all students. My hope is that the federal investigation of my complaint by the Office of Civil Rights will produce even more positive change, not just at FSU, but across the country," Kinsman says (McLaughlin, CNN, 1/26).


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