Alcohol, athletes and assault: Playing the blame game at Vanderbilt

By Hannah Stein, JWI

In late June of 2013 Vanderbilt officials watched dormitory surveillance footage to address rumors of vandalism. However, what they saw was far worse. A group of athletes — each of whom played football for the university — were dragging an unconscious student through the hallway, snapping pictures and cracking sexually explicit jokes before carrying her into one of the rooms.

Sickening. That’s the only word I can think of to even remotely describe the case. As details have emerged, I am horrified that she knew nothing until law enforcement informed her. Yes, the woman knew she had blacked out. But no, she didn’t think she had been assaulted. Why would she have? That night she went out with people she trusted and wanted to hang out with. Co-defendant Brandon Vandenberg was her friend.

The defense subpoenaed an expert to testify that the co-defendants were drunk the night of June 22, 2013. During jury selection they asked potential members to define what it means to be drunk. They asked how alcohol affects the brain and what implications that might have. The defense spent so much time focusing on the objectivity of intoxication, yet every aspect of “being wasted” is subjective. Two drinks for me does not equal two drinks for you, as our alcohol tolerances differ. So how can you define intoxication when such ambiguity exists?

Our reactions to and interpretations of the Vanderbilt rape case are nothing but subjective. This presents itself through social double standards, especially when it comes to partying. But let’s think about this for a second. A police officer detains an intoxicated driver who then cries, I’m too drunk to be responsible for my actions! How would you respond? I hope you’d laugh at the absurdity of this remark. I certainly would. How many times have you heard of someone talking his or her way out of a DUI? It just doesn’t happen.

So why should sexual assault be any different?

Co-defendant Cory Batey testified that he was too intoxicated to know what he was doing. Rather than accepting responsibility for his actions — all of which, by the way, were caught on camera — Batey played the blame game. It was Jack Daniels’ fault. The college culture made me do it. My friends pressured me to do it. Yet even after identifying himself in the video and then apologizing to the victim, he refused to change his plea to guilty. Despite the concrete evidence of his crimes, Batey truly believes alcohol is to blame for his actions.

According to the defense, intoxication serves as an excuse for atrocious behavior. Perpetrators of sexual assault are often given the benefit of the doubt, especially when alcohol is involved. However, this doesn’t go both ways. When victims drink too much, they tend to face more criticism than compassion. Society tells women to limit drinking in order to prevent getting raped. But at what point does society hold rapists accountable? The focus on accountability has shifted in recent months, but we won’t be able to truly progress until we start preaching don’t rape instead of don’t get raped.

UPDATE: On January 27, 2015, co-defendants Brandon Vandenberg and Cory Batey were found guilty of four counts of aggravated rape, one count of attempted aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Vandenberg was also found guilty of tampering with evidence and unlawful photography. Their bonds have been revoked and sentencing is scheduled for March 6.

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