Vanderbilt Football Players Convicted of Gang Rape

A neuroscience and economics major is about to go on a date at Vanderbilt University. She dresses up for the evening and does not sleep with the young man who took her out. A couple of hours later, her date hands her a drink and she blacks out. Unconscious, she is carried away by three football players and her date. The man she went on a date with, Brandon Vandenburg, hands condoms out to his fellow football players and explains that he can’t have sex with her because he’s too high on cocaine. His team members gang rape her. One of the men, Cory Batey, urinates on her. She wakes up the next morning and can’t remember the attack. Rumors swirl on campus about what happened that night, but she is given no answers until the police come to her much later.

This is a nightmare situation, but one that, on January 27th, resulted in consequences for the woman’s attackers. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, both of whom were kicked off the football team and expelled from Vanderbilt after footage was released of the two of them dragging the unconscious victim into a dorm room, were found guilty of aggravated rape and face between 15 and 80 years in prison after a 12 day long trial. 

Unfortunately, this kind of conclusion to a rape on college campuses is rare; according to a study conducted by the Justice Department, 80 percent of campus rapes went unreported between 1995 and 2013, 13 percent more than in the general population.

The defense largely rested upon the idea that Vandenburg and Batey were so inebriated that they couldn’t make rational decisions. Batey explained on the witness stand during the trial, “I was just drunk out of my mind” and that “this is something I would never do in my right state of mind. I’m just sorry.” Batey’s lawyer even went so far as to attribute the assault to the university’s party and hookup culture rather than to his client’s actions.

While hearing Batey testify, according to USA Today, the victim “appeared to vomit at one point.” She also “cried quietly throughout the trial.”

The argument that the assault was caused by alcohol did not sway the jury after they were shown footage that taken of the players photographing the unconscious victim and carrying her into a dorm room. In addition to this, three of the attackers recorded the assault on their cell phones. They later attempted to erase the cell phone footage.

To make the case even more disturbing, witnesses reported that they saw the victim partially naked in the hallway. According to testimony, five Vanderbilt athletes saw the victim and recognized that she was in distress, but they did not step forward to help.  Some witnesses report that they knew the victim was being attacked, but none of the witnesses tried to help her, possibly a result of a disturbing psychological phenomenon, the Bystander Effect.

According to the New York Times, Vanderbilt students fall into two camps about the attack: either that Vanderbilt “is not the sort of place where such things happen, or they happen everywhere—and either way, no one should point a finger at Vanderbilt.” Vanderbilt is currently under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights because of how the university has handled other sexual assault cases, along with approximately 100 other college and universities.

Vanderbilt University referred the footage of the attackers dragging the victim into a dorm room to the police. The university also expelled the attackers significantly before the trial. Vanderbilt released a statement that they will continue “comprehensive ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of every Vanderbilt student intervening when another student is at risk or in distress.”

The victim, whose identity has not been released as a survivor of sexual violence, has since graduated from Vanderbilt, and is now pursuing her PhD in neuroscience, and has been proclaimed by Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor of academic affairs, Beth Fortune, to be “forceful and brave.” She has spoken out, saying, “I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame.”

If you have survived sexual assault, reach out. Call 1-800-656-HOPE, the Sexual Assault Hotline, to talk to a trained counselor. Get in touch with your residence advisor or the counseling or health centers on your campus—they know what to do, and how to help.