A 20-year-old Texas Tech sophomore, Michelle Mallin, was careful not to touch the cigarette the rapist left on her car seat. From the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal:
During the assault, Mallin fixated on a half-smoked cigarette and lighter the man left on her car seat. After driving her back into the city, Mallin was relieved the man left the evidence as he fled on foot.
“Don’t touch that,” Mallin thought as she found her way back to campus. “It should have his fingerprints on there.”
When she arrived at her dorm room about three hours after being abducted, Mallin called the Lubbock Police Department.
She told them about the cigarette and described her attacker — an African-American man with a medium build and short, curly hair.
Mallin picked Tim Coles out of the photo-array as the man who raped her. His was the only color Polaroid of the 6 pictures.
At the time, Mallin believed Cole was the man who raped her about a month earlier.
So did the all-white jury of nine men and three women who sentenced Cole to 25 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault.
They were wrong.
Tim Cole has been exonerated by DNA. It didn’t help him much, as he died in prison in 1999. His mother, Ruby Cole Sessions, told Mallin when she came to visit her,
‘stop crying’ because she had nothing to be sorry for. She said, ‘You were a victim just as my son was and it will be OK,’ ” Cory Session said. “It was not her fault at all.”
An unnamed Florida State University student accused the school’s “famed quarterback, Jameis Winston” of rape. He denied the allegation. From the New York Times:
After downing a double dose of NyQuil to fight a cold, the young woman woke in a man’s dormitory room with a vague memory of someone being on top of her, but no recollection of sexual contact. Three days later she found a condom in her vagina. She repeatedly confronted the man, who insisted that nothing had happened, and his roommate, who had told her he saw them having sex, then said he was joking.
The Tallahassee police are accused of “failure to adequately investigate despite bruises on the accuser and semen on her underwear.”
“I was worried, and I was crying,” the woman, a Florida State University student, told the police. She went to Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare for an examination, and to the university police, but they did not question the suspect or his roommate. Instead, they asked the woman if she wanted the suspect questioned; she never gave a “yes” or “no” answer, so they closed the case 18 days after her initial report.
An investigation revealed that the police, after a report is made and an examination conducted, would ask the complainant if she wanted them to investigate. If she did not explicitly agree, they would close the case.
In talking with the police, “they indicate that this happens all the time, victims come in, they’re not sure what they want to do, and the case is not investigated until they make up their mind,” said Georgia Cappleman, the chief assistant state attorney for a six-county region of Florida that includes Tallahassee.
“If a victim comes in and reports a violent crime, I don’t think it’s appropriate to then say, ‘Well, what do you want to do about it? Are you sure you want to go forward with this?’ ” Ms. Cappleman said. “The appropriate thing to do is to assume by her being there, making the report, that she does want an investigation and to proceed with it accordingly.”
The University didn’t see things as clearly as the prosecutor.
In a written statement, the university said its officers are trained to treat people compassionately, including “making sure the alleged victim is aware of, and can prepare for, the next steps.” It added that experts counsel that “it is important to allow a victim to have a voice in the investigative process as a way of re-establishing control over their lives.”
In the case of the woman who found a condom inside her, the university said, the investigator “respected the desires of the alleged victim,” and could reopen the case if she requested it.
Respecting the desires of the “alleged victim” doesn’t seem insensitive. In matters such as allegations of rape, there are influences and concerns beyond the normal in prosecuting a crime. But should the presumption be to investigate in the absence of an express desire to pursue or to let the complainant decide what becomes of the investigation, and her life?
The juxtaposition of these two cases isn’t offered to show that the system is right or wrong, but rather that anecdotal claims extrapolated to systemic failures rarely proves anything. Advocates offer their best stories to grab people’s hearts in the hope that their minds will follow, because we’ve become particularly susceptible to heart-rending stories of pain and misery. The problem is that the stories go both ways. No side owns misery.
Calls for change to the system based upon anecdotal sympathy must always be suspect. Michelle Mallin was a victim. So too was Tim Cole, who was a guilty rapist in prison on the day he died. An unknown woman at FSU claims to be a victim. Seminoles’ quarterback Jameis Winston is named in the New York Times as the accused rapist, who will be the accused rapist for the rest of his life.