It was one of the most thrilling finishes in college football history.
On January 6, 2014, down by 4 points with 17 seconds left in the game, redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, who weeks earlier had become the youngest Heisman Trophy winner ever, executed a beautiful 2-yard play-action pass over the middle to receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the game-winning touchdown, thus capping off a furious comeback over No. 2 Auburn to win the BCS national title for his Florida State Seminoles.
After the game, Winston was ecstatic. “We champions… Through everything that we went through, through all the haters, we came out victorious. And God did this,” he said. Winston was the toast of Tallahassee (and beyond), earning plaudits on Twitter from the likes of LeBron James—who called him “special”—and rapper Lil Wayne.
For Erica Kinsman, however, the praise being heaped on “Famous Jameis” was another in a long line of indignities suffered by the 20-year-old. Just over one year earlier, on December 7, 2012, Kinsman, a bookish pre-med freshman at Florida State, accused Winston of a vicious sexual assault—but her cries for help fell on largely deaf ears. In The Hunting Ground, a comprehensive and compelling documentary examining the nationwide campus sexual assault epidemic, Kinsman speaks publicly for the first time about her alleged rape at the hands of Winston. The film is directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (The Invisible War), and made its premiere on Friday at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It will air on CNN later this year, and will be released theatrically by Radius.
According to Dick’s film, less than 4 percent of people on campus are student athletes, yet they commit 19 percent of schools’ sexual assaults. Kinsman claims she was one of those victims.
On the night of December 6, 2012, just one week before finals, Kinsman was letting off some steam at Potbelly’s, a popular drinking establishment in Tallahassee. She claims in the film that, after having some drinks, a man was creepily following her around the bar—but she was saved when another man put his arm around her and told the guy she was his girlfriend, and to piss off. Kinsman says the man then bought her a shot, and after she took it, she started to become very woozy. She faintly remembers being taken in a cab to an apartment, and the next thing she knew, the man was on top of her, engaging in vaginal intercourse with her. She says she begged and pleaded for him to stop, and then saw the man’s roommate enter the bedroom and tell his friend, “Stop… What are you doing?”
Kinsman says that the man ignored the roommate’s pleas, and took her to the bathroom, which could be locked from the inside. There, he pinned her head against the tiled floor with his hand, and continued to rape her. When he finished, the man allegedly said, “You can leave now.”
Lightheaded and with no idea where she was, Kinsman says she let the man drop her off on his scooter at a recognizable intersection—because she didn’t want him to know where she lived. Kinsman reported the rape, and was taken to Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare where a rape kit was performed. Semen was found on the woman’s body.
The following month, with her case still open, Kinsman was back for the first day of second semester class at Florida State. The professor was announcing roll call, and when the very last name was announced, she recognized him as the man that allegedly raped her: Jameis Winston.
Officer Scott Angulo handled Kinsman’s case—or mishandled it, if Kinsman’s attorneys are to be believed. Angulo was a Florida State graduate who did private security work for the Seminole Boosters, a major fundraising arm of Florida State athletics. In the wake of her rape accusation, he failed to obtain a DNA sample from Winston, failed to interview him, failed to question the cab driver, failed to demand video footage from the 30 cameras inside Potbelly’s, and failed to question Seminoles defensive end Chris Casher, Winston’s roommate/teammate who allegedly tried to tell him to stop raping Kinsman. According to Kinsman, the Tallahassee Police Department did nothing for 10 months. Meanwhile, she was constantly being re-victimized by her FSU classmates.
“All these people were praising [Winston]… and calling me a slut, a whore,” Kinsman says in the film.
Kinsman’s case finally gained some traction in November 2013, when it was reported that DNA provided by Winston matched a DNA sample taken from her underwear on the night of the alleged assault. The odds of the DNA belonging to someone other than Winston were 1 in 2.2 trillion. She couldn’t fathom why it took 11 months for the case to make its way to local prosecutors. But on December 5, 2013, State Attorney Willie Meggs announced that the case was over, and no charged would be filed against Winston. In Dick’s film, Meggs is interviewed on camera and claims that while he did not have sufficient evidence to convict Winston, “I think things that happened that night were not good.”
And on December 21, 2014, in the wake of his National Championship and Heisman Trophy wins, and with a huge Rose Bowl game less than two weeks away, Winston was cleared of violating FSU’s student conduct code in connection to the sexual assault allegation.
“I kind of just want to know… why me?” asks a teary-eyed Kinsman in the film. “It doesn’t really make sense.”
Despite this alleged miscarriage of justice, Dick’s film earned a standing ovation following its Sundance premiere—and one of the audience members who rose to their feet was none other than Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who makes a brief appearance in the film.