Sheila Burke and Travis Loller,
Associated Press | Saturday, January 24, 2015
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Defense attorneys for the former Vanderbilt University football players whose own cellphones show they participated in a dorm-room sex assault have placed blame on the elite Southern university, saying their clients' judgment was warped by a campus culture where drunken sex was common.
The graphic evidence and testimony presented in court is all the more shocking because it shows that several others were at least partly aware that an unconscious woman was being taken advantage of or had enough evidence to show that something had happened to her, and did nothing to help her or report it.
That bystanders' failure to act falls well short of the university culture Vanderbilt officials say they were trying to create on campus long before the morning of June 23, 2013.
It also hints at the enormity of the challenge facing colleges nationwide as they try to establish campuses where students are safe, everyone understands the rules, and entire communities work together to make sure such crimes don't happen.
"I think we need to think about the range of bystanders who could have intervened before they got into that dorm room," said Jane Stapleton, a professor at the University of New Hampshire and an expert on intervention programs. And by not calling for help when the woman was seen lying unconscious and naked in a hallway afterward, the other athletes made such behavior seem normal, she said.
The U.S. Department of Education issued its most specific guidance yet for how schools should handle sex assault complaints in 2011, and colleges including Vanderbilt updated their policies. Meanwhile, college women increasingly took matters into their own hands, networking with each other and supporting a national campaign to file Title IX complaints claiming their schools were mishandling cases. After these gang rape charges were filed in 2013, Vanderbilt became one of dozens of universities subject to more intense investigation.
Sarah O'Brien, who spearheaded the Title IX complaint against Vanderbilt, said she's not at all surprised at the testimony showing how many people failed to help. Many at Vanderbilt and elsewhere tend to look the other way, she said.
The first to be tried are former wide receiver Cory Batey and star recruit Brandon Vandenburg, whose dorm room became the scene of the alleged crimes. Also charged with aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery are Brandon Banks, who played defensive back, and Jaborian McKenzie, a former receiver for the Commodores. All have pleaded not guilty.
Banks and McKenzie will be tried later, and were not provided with plea agreements in exchange for their cooperation, prosecutors said.