Katie Hnida had read all of the publicly available documentation of the rape accusation against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. So on Wednesday when she called up The New York Times’ detailed account of the investigation of that incident, and it appeared to not have been much of an investigation at all, well, she’d seen that one before.
"It’s a weird thing to be horrified and not surprised at the same time," she said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
If you remember Hnida, chances are you remember her on account of the worst thing that happened to her.
Ten years ago, Hnida went public with an accusation she had only told her family: that in 2000, Hnida, then a kicker for the Colorado football team, said she had been raped by a teammate. She and her parents had gone to the athletic director and chancellor and said she had been physically and sexually abused by her teammates on a serial basis, but stopped short of telling them she had been raped. CU said it would look into it. Eventually, Hnida transferred to New Mexico, where she became the first woman to play in a Division I football game.
In 2004, when some CU football players were accused of committing rape at a party, part of the university’s response was that it never had a problem with that sort of thing, and that set off Hnida. She spoke to CU again, and to the district attorney — a woman she says was sympathetic to her plight and optimistic about her case — about filing charges. But Hnida says she was discouraged from pursuing justice by a combination of Colorado’s reaction, her own reluctance to make a scene, and by the existing sentencing realities in her home state. Hnida says the DA told her that even if convicted, her assailant likely would not go to jail, but would get probation and an ankle bracelet.
So she went to the Fourth Estate of democracy, the press.
What happened next was a chain of events that has become familiar in the 10 years since: People called her a slut, people threatened to kill her, the school promised to look into it, to no avail. Then? Well, then came the whopper. In response to a question about whether Hnida’s teammates had respected her, Colorado coach Gary Barnett said this: "Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There’s no other way to say it."
Hnida giggles at Barnett’s reaction now, which should be reassuring to anyone who ever wondered, "Is it OK to laugh at how stupid that was or is it just pure horror?" Oh, she laughs. At him, mind you.
Hnida, now 32, earns her living as a public speaker. She does a lot of her work at high schools and colleges, and part of the job is explaining to young men that a rapist isn’t just a guy who jumps out from behind the bushes. That used to be Hnida’s conception of it, too, until she was raped by someone she knew and trusted, she says.
"That was the worst part of it for me," she said. "It was this guy who I really thought highly of and trusted him with a lot."
She thinks public attitudes about rape have changed in the past 10 years. There is a phrase now for the idea that rape is a broad problem: "rape culture."
"It’s new; it’s just come into our vernacular," Hnida said. "It can be in a zillion different forms. If you look at the FSU case, you can see rape culture right there, because a university did not look into this because their starting quarterback was involved. Or rape culture was the Tallahassee police department not doing an (acceptable) investigation. It’s something that allows rape to thrive."
Football coaches sometimes invite Hnida to campus to tell her story in front of their teams, and she says a lot of them have made good impressions on her. She’s noticed that when there is a rape case that generates publicity, like at Florida State, Missouri, Steubenville, Ohio or Maryville, Mo., the alleged victim gets more support from the public at large than they once might have. But there still are the athletes and the fans and the institutions, and still a sense among many that if your victimhood is an obstacle to a school’s athletic achievement, people don’t want to hear about it.
It’s something, she says, about sports.
"If we read these stories, and heard about them happening at Microsoft or Google or something, I think people would be more outraged," she said.
Winston never was charged with a crime, much less convicted. He is innocent according to the criminal justice system, but the accusation always will be part of his Wikipedia page. That is his consequence for whatever happened that night.
The Colorado player’s name never got out. Part of the reason Hnida didn’t press charges was that she was afraid of retaliation from a guy who she believes would not have gone to jail.
"My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh, good, after the trial he’s gonna come kill me,’" she said.
It’s important to recognize that Hnida’s case and Winston’s case are different cases that involved different people in different parts of the country. The important similarity, to Hnida, is that in both cases a woman accused a football player of rape, and in both cases the accusation died on the vine. A rape victim who watched the Florida State case unfold couldn’t be blamed for feeling like reporting it would be a painful, fruitless endeavor.
Hnida thinks a lot of personal and cultural good has come from telling her story. There are days she feels encouraged. And then there are days like Wednesday.
"I was thinking just the other day, ‘Wow, it’s different than it was 10 years ago,’" she said. "And then I wake up [Wednesday] morning, and I read the New York Times and I’m gonna be honest, I got bummed out."