Engel: Fans should reserve judgment on Winston AND accuser

I do not know if Jameis Winston raped anybody, as has been alleged. Or if the sex Winston had with the complainant last December was consensual, as his lawyer argued last week.

I do not know if a detective really warned this complainant against pursuing charges because Tallahassee is “a big football town,” as also has been alleged. Or if charges were later in coming for murkier reasons, as has been intimated by many of my media brethren.

What I know for sure is 99 percent of the media members repeating various versions of “why now?” are dudes. And what they see as a red flag, hesitancy on the part of this alleged victim to pursue rape changes in a timely manner, is actually quite reasonable to anybody with girl parts.

What I know for sure, what every single woman who has ever been raped or lived through the rape of a friend or a sister or daughter knows for sure, is there are no easy decisions in the aftermath.

Say nothing, and it haunts you.

Press charges, and the hell oftentimes is just beginning.

The sad truth about what the Tallahassee detective allegedly said is how accurate it is; life becomes hell for rape victims. Because even now, even in 2013, how we deal with rape very much includes putting the accuser on trial — what she wore, how much she had to drink, her sexual history. This scares many women from saying anything, from walking into a police station, from pressing charges in even clear-cut, stranger-rape cases where villains and victims easily delineate themselves.

A lot of sexual assault, though, happens in shades of greys — dates gone awry, “Nos” that go unheeded, invasions of girls too intoxicated to say yes or no. As Robin Thicke so popularly crooned, we live in a world of blurred lines and this blurry grey area further deters women from coming forward.

In a timely manner.

Without any hesitation.

Or at all.

So it is not a red flag to me, whatsoever, that a young girl accusing a big-name football player in a big-time college football town in a possible National Championship-season might go back and forth and forth and back on whether to press forward. It is totally sane, especially in light of what went down in Steubenville and that small town in Kansas. In both cases, young girls accused football players of sexual assault and were bullied and harassed and tortured for demanding justice.

And let’s say for a second that this girl in this Winston case really was raped, and again I do not know, how awful that must be to awake on a Saturday to hear sports talkers debating what your worst moment does to his Heisman chances, or see fellow students with signs supporting this guy, or reading comments below stories calling you a whore.

Of course, she was intimidated.

Why now is because she finally became more angry than scared.

Again, I do not know if Jameis is guilty or innocent and I am not pretending I do. I met him only once, in the aftermath of the victory against Miami, and walked away as charmed as everybody else. This means nothing. As I have said many, many times before, the biggest mistake we make is pretending we know athletes by watching them on Saturdays or hearing sound bites from them. As we have seen time and time again, with athletes and with everybody, what people pretend to be in public is not necessarily what they are when they think nobody is looking.

Whatever happened last December, a rape or a false allegation from a consensual sexual encounter, there are no winners in this. Whatever the truth is, it is ugly.

So we probably need to dial back on turning this into just another sports debate, because right now, about the only thing missing in this Jameis Winston conversation is Lee Corso donning a Jameis or accuser head as a cheering throng reacts behind him.