In January 2015, ex-Vanderbilt University football players Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey were found guilty of aggravated rape on an unconscious woman. In a statement, the victim thanked the prosecutors and detectives that had worked on her case, leading to a rare conviction. “I am... hopeful that the publicity this case has received will lead to a discussion of how we can end sexual violence on college campuses,” the statement said. “Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame.”
But in an odd turn of events, Vandenburg and Batey’s verdicts were overturned after it was discovered that the foreman of the jury had been a victim of statutory rape; so Tennessee prosecutors went back to the drawing board. In April, Batey was again convicted and he is scheduled for sentencing in July. On Monday, Vandenburg’s retrial began. Vandenburg, now 22, is charged with five counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery and unlawful photography.
Vandenburg’s case is particularly prescient, particularly in light of the anger that followed ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner’s sentence for attempted rape. In the opening statements of Vandenburg’s retrial, the defense painted him as a confused new recruit who was trying to protect the unnamed victim but was instead taken advantage of by older players.
The day before the alleged rape, in the early morning of June 23, 2013, Vanderburg and his teammates spent most of the day drinking. The victim, whom Vandenburg was dating, met with him that evening at a nearby bar. According to the Washington Post, the pair left to return to the woman’s home but found themselves locked out.
Vandenburg then drove them to his dorm room. His teammates saw him struggling to carry the woman from his car to the dorm and offered to help. The victim, unconscious in Vanderburg’s dorm room, was raped by three football players, including Batey. Two other men, Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, have also been charged but have yet to be tried.
To be clear, Vanderburg did not rape the victim (i.e. he did not penetrate an unconscious woman), but the prosecution alleges that Vanderburg can be seen, “giving instructions, encouraging, and [...] laughing,” on a video recording of the rape. Basically, Vandenburg encouraged his teammates and cheered them on while he watched them penetrate a woman with a series of foreign objects, including a water bottle.
The Tennessean reports that while Vandenburg’s defense attorneys depict him as a confused kid, thousands of miles away from his California home, trying to assuage older teammates he hardly knew, that the prosecutors present a very different picture:
[Prosecutor] Thurman said Vandenburg couldn’t get an erection, so he splashed water on himself and searched for porn on his laptop. He said Vandenburg was upset his cellphone battery was dying. He said Vandenburg taunted the unconscious woman, asking if she wanted to go back to Tin Roof bar.
Some of that is captured on cellphone recordings police recovered and that are the state’s key evidence.
“He’s videoing it,” Thurman said. “And he’s encouraging it.
“You’ll hear him tell Mr. Batey, ‘You ain’t even hard, dude.’
“And then you’ll hear him laughing.”
Prosecutors note that after the rape, Vandenburg, and his teammates conspired to cover up the evidence.
So, it’s a terrible case that’s terribly familiar. A woman, then a 21-year-old neuroscience major who, like Brock Turner’s victim, has been quickly turned into an “unconscious rape victim,” yet another anonymous woman on which to debate campus drinking culture (truly one of the dumbest phrases to ever be uttered or repeated). Yet another case in which a woman’s behavior is examined with the fine-toothed comb to determine whether or not she was an accomplice in the crimes committed against her.
Let’s all take a moment to remember Good Morning America’s coverage of this case last year, which typified the “unconscious rape victim” narrative; one that seeks to spread out guilt and responsibility, essentially treating rape and drinking as essentially similar crimes. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the Washington Post’s description of the case:
Prosecutors in the retrial of a former Vanderbilt football player told a Memphis jury in Monday’s opening statements that Brandon Vandenburg coached his teammates into having sex with an unconscious woman he had been dating.
Just another campus rape and another day of the same warmed-over narrative framed somewhere between “balance” and “concern.”
Vandenburg’s retrial is expected to conclude on Friday.
Image via AP.