On Saturday, ex-Vanderbilt football player Brandon Vandenburg was found guilty — for the second time — of orchestrating the 2013 gang rape of an unconscious woman in his dorm room.
Vandenburg, 23, was convicted of all eight charges against him: five counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of unlawful photography. A sentencing hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet, but Vandenburg could face 15 to 25 years in prison for the crime.
It’s been an impossibly long slog for the victim in the case, the Tennessean reports. The case has lasted three years and three trials so far — one mistrial and two retrials that resulted in convictions for two of the assailants — with two more pending trials for the other two alleged perpetrators of the gang rape.
The details of the case are horrifying. The victim, who had been dating Vandenburg for a few weeks at the time, says she doesn’t remember anything between being handed a blue drink by Vandenburg at a bar and waking up in his bed the next morning in the worst pain of her life.
Vandenburg told the victim she had gotten drunk and thrown up and that he had taken care of her all night. But the real story, revealed in a videotape of the assault that police recovered, was very different:
Vandenburg carried her unconscious body into his room at Gillette Hall about 2:30 a.m. June 23, 2013, asking three teammates he ran into outside for help. They put her on the floor and at least two of them penetrated her with their fingers and one sat on her face, raising his middle finger for a photograph, according to trial testimony.
Vandenburg could not get an erection, so he watched pornography on his laptop.
He tried to wake up his roommate on the top bunk, saying “we have this b---- in here” and “we’re gonna f--- her.”
Vandenburg sent videos to four friends and destroyed condoms.
The man she trusted giggled and goaded his teammate, “squeeze that s---,” referring to a bottle in her anus.
Vandenburg and his teammate Cory Batey were both found guilty of the rape in January. But a mistrial was declared because one juror didn’t disclose that he had been a victim of statutory rape as a teenager.
That juror, Todd Easter, maintains that he didn’t lie during the jury selection process and that he didn’t unduly influence the rest of the jury. He says that he had a consensual relationship at age 16 with a man seven or eight years older. His boyfriend was sent to prison, and Easter went through 18 months of counseling. Easter says he didn’t consider himself a victim, and thus didn’t think of his own case when he was asked if he knew anyone who had been a victim of sexual assault.
Batey was once again convicted of the aggravated rape in April, and his sentencing is scheduled for July. The two other alleged attackers, Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, are still awaiting trial.
Assistant District Attorney General Jan Norman praised the victim for her perseverance through countless hearings and headlines. “She is one of the strongest people that I know,” Norman said. “She has incredible courage. She is just an amazing, intelligent young woman.”
The Vanderbilt case bears some similarities to the Stanford sexual assault case that made international news because of the victim’s powerful letter to her attacker, Brock Turner. Both cases involve an unconscious woman being violated by a college athlete, and both Turner and Vandenburg attempted to blame alcohol for their actions.
It seems unlikely that Vandenburg will get nearly as lenient a sentence as Turner — six months in county jail and three years’ probation — especially following the national outcry against the judge who gave Turner that sentence. That judge, Aaron Persky, was subsequently removed from another sexual assault case after the district attorney’s office argued that he couldn’t give it a fair hearing.
But there will be no such penalties for the several young men who stood by and did nothing while the crime was occurring.
There was Vandenburg’s roommate, Mack Prioleau, who pretended to be asleep while the woman was being raped and didn’t call police or check on the victim afterward.
There were three other football players who played more passive roles: Dillon Van der Wal, who did nothing when he saw the victim lying partially naked in the hallway outside Vandenburg’s dorm room; DeAndre Woods, who helped carry the woman into Vandenburg’s room; and Chris Boyd, who both helped carry the woman into the room and helped cover up the crime by telling Vandenburg to delete the video of the assault.
Boyd pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact as part of a plea deal. He testified against Vandenberg and Batey and was sentenced to just a year of unsupervised probation.
This, as Amanda Taub wrote for Vox last year, is rape culture in action. It’s an attitude that both accepts and enables rape, and that gives bystanders no incentive to stop a crime from happening or reporting it afterward. And it’s a social code that says it’s more important to help your buddies and keep them from getting into trouble than to look out for the well-being of victims.