Sexual assault, Title IX and college campuses

FSU to pay Winston accuser $950,000

Florida State University has settled a federal Title IX lawsuit with Erica Kinsman, a former student who said she was raped by quarterback Jameis Winston in 2012.

The settlement was announced by her attorneys on Monday, more than a year after she initially filed the complaint in federal court.

FSU agreed to pay Kinsman $950,000 – an amount that includes attorney's fees – as well as make a five-year commitment to awareness, prevention and training programs. The lump sum is the largest settlement for Title IX claims regarding indifference to a student's sexual assault.

"I will always be disappointed that I had to leave the school I dreamed of attending since I was little," Kinsman said in a statement. "I am happy that FSU has committed to continue making changes in order to ensure a safer environment for all students."

 

The settlement does not affect an ongoing Title IX investigation by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Kinsman filed a complaint with the agency in early 2014 and it opened an investigation in April of that year.

In her lawsuit, which was settled in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Kinsman alleged that Florida State was "deliberately indifferent" to her reported sexual assault and that its response was "clearly unreasonable." She asserted that FSU concealed and obstructed the investigation so as to allow Winston to play football.

Kinsman, who left FSU in November 2013 when the case became publicly know, argued that continued harassment denied her of her educational opportunities under Title IX.

Survivors of sexual assault on college campuses are using Title IX to hold colleges and universities accountable.

"It's time.  It's time for our students to be students again," said Andrea Pino.  She co-founded the organization End Rape On Campus or EROC.

Studies show as many as one in four women are sexually assaulted at college though it's not always reported.

Pino and her colleagues at EROC have lobbied for change.  They've worked on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act which they believe would give teeth to Title IX complaints regarding a school's handling of sexual assault.

As part of its mission, EROC helps student file Title IX complaints.  That work was featured in the campus sexual assault documentary, The Hunting Ground

Kinsman also shared her story in the film.  Pino says Kinsman's settlement is a step in the fight to end sexual violence on campus and hold schools accountable.

"We hope that schools instead of fearing being sued by students or fearing these title IX complaints will actually put that money into programs to prevent sexual assault to begin with," said Pino.

Pino says she was disappointed by FSU's statement regarding the settlement.

FSU did not admit to liability in the settlement, in which university President John Thrasher said the school agreed to in order to avoid additional litigation expenses.

"We have an obligation to our students, their parents and Florida taxpayers to deal with this case, as we do all litigation, in a financially responsible manner," Thrasher said in a statement. "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."

"These complaints that are upwards of 200 right now under investigation are going to continue happening up until schools actually start prioritizing campus safety," said Pino.

Kinsman will receive $250,000.  Her attorneys will be paid $700,000.

"Title IX can be the million-dollar mistake and I think that we've had the stakes raised in title IX for some time," said Professor Peter Lake.

Lake specializes in Title IX at Stetson University College of Law.  He says not every Title IX complainant files a federal lawsuit.  He says it's a new day for Title IX.  It's no longer just about equity in athletics. It's something he and others interested in Title IX have discussed for some time and will likely be a topic at this year's law conference in Orlando.

 

 

"The big jump really in the last five years has been this idea that Title IX is designed to address violence in various forms on campus particularly sexual assault or rape," said Professor Peter Lake.

 

Typically, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights will investigate and issue its findings.

 

10News did check to see if there are any open Title IX complaints with colleges or universities in the Bay area.  We found one with the University of South Florida.  The complaint was filed in September of 2014.  The investigation is still on-going. 


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