By now, you've read or heard about Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston's explicit, detailed statement denying that he is guilty of rape, in which he (or someone writing on his behalf) makes the remarkable assertion that "[t]he only thing as vicious as rape is falsely accusing someone of rape." It's not unusual for accused rapists to go on the offensive; defense lawyers have long since figured out that it's easier to smear the credibility of a victim than to prove a client's innocence. But, even against that backdrop, Winston's statement is truly remarkable in its self-victimization.
There's no doubt that being falsely accused of rape is a dreadful thing that no one should have to endure. One of the reasons it is such a dreadful thing is that false accusations of rape basically do not happen. Statistically, between 2% and 8% of reported rapes are found to be false, but only about 40% of rapes are reported. Do a little math and that means that, for every false accusation of rape, there are up to 100 actual rapes that take place. There were 83,000 forcible rapes reported to the authorities in 2011, which means there were somewhere between 1,500 and 6,500 false accusations of rape. In a country of 300,000,000. Over a year. That makes your odds of being falsely accused of rape at somewhere between 50,000 and 200,000 to 1. (The odds of actually being arrested are even less, since only one in 10 rapists is ever arrested, putting the odds of you being arrested, let alone convicted, on a false charge at about two million to one.) Let's put this in context: the odds that you will be falsely accused of rape are basically the same as the odds that you or someone in your family will be struck by lightning. Your odds of being falsely accused of rape are about the same as your odds of being attacked by a shark. Or, if you prefer to put this in football terms, your odds of falsely being accused of rape are substantially longer than the chances of the 2-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning this year's Super Bowl. So, yes, one must be extraordinarily unlucky to be falsely accused of rape. But this is precisely why drawing an equivalence between rape and false rape accusations is so bankrupt. One is a pervasive social problem that affects millions; the other is a freak occurrence, like the birth of a two-headed calf.
Let's take this out of the realm of generalities, though; after all, Winston isn't making an abstract complaint about the fate of a poor working man reliant on an overworked and indifferent public defender who finds himself falsely accused of rape, but a more specific one, about the effects of being accused of rape have had or could have on him. What are the consequences of being falsely accused of rape to a big-time football star, like Jameis Winston? A look at other athletes might be instructive. Mike Tyson was convicted of rape. When he was released from prison, he was welcomed back to the world of boxing with open arms and proceeded to earn a series of record-setting paydays. Today, he has his own cartoon show. ESPN even tweeted him birthday wishes. (How many other convicted felons get birthday wishes from the Worldwide Leader?) Kobe Bryant was accused of rape and settled out of court with his accuser. He didn't miss any time on the court and while he temporarily lost a few sponsors, most eventually took him back. He earned $31 million in endorsements last year, despite being a non-factor on the court. Ben Roethlisberger was suspended a few games after repeated allegations of sexual assault. He's just fine. None of these extremely high profile cases meaningfully impacted the athlete's career earning potential, even though the allegations were either proven, or at least not proven to be false. Time and time again, athletic talent has trumped even highly credible accusations of rape.
Meanwhile, the consequences of being an athlete's victim are significantly less sunny. Lizzy Seeberg was a 19-year-old college freshman when she claimed to have been assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. Ten days later, after a series of threatening messages from a friend of the player, and coming to a realization that the player would not face justice, she killed herself. And, though her tragic case drew more attention than most, she's hardly unique. A third of rape victims contemplate suicide, and 13% will actually attempt it. The suicide rate for the public at large? About 0.1%. And the suicide rate of high profile athletes accused of rape? Well, if there's been one, I couldn't find it. To even compare himself to Lizzy Seeberg or the thousands like her is only further testimony to how dreadful Jameis Winston's character must be.
I don't know if Jameis Winston is guilty, but the statistics say he almost certainly is. The threshold for the government to take your liberty is proof "beyond a reasonable doubt," which legal scholars generally define as about 95% certainty. To take your property, the government (or a private citizen) need only show your guilt by a "preponderance of the evidence," 50.1% certainty. If there is a 2-8% chance of the accusation against Winston being false, there's a 92%-98% certainty that it's true. Compare those odds to the burden of what must be proven to prevail in court if you will but, please don't compare them to the actual results. Only three out of 100 rapists serve so much as one day in prison.
And that's where it stands. There are very good odds that Winston is guilty, though we'll never really know, given the endemic obstruction of justice in his investigation. There's no chance he'll go to jail now, but there was always less than a 10% chance that he would serve even a day in jail. Jameis Winston is projected as a first round draft pick in the NFL draft, where he'd be guaranteed millions of dollars. If he succeeds after that, there's no reason to expect that he'd be any less marketable than Mike Tyson, Mark Sanchez, or Kobe Bryant.
Now, I ask you, is it fair for Jameis Winston to draw an equivalence between himself and a rape victim? And if so, why?
IronMikeGallego (Daniel Roberts) is a longtime boxing fan and occasional contributor to Deadspin and SportsOnEarth. He can be found on Twitter @ironmikegallego or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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