Drunkenness Used As A Defense In Vanderbilt Rape Trial
Four ex-Vanderbilt football players violently gang raped a fellow student in June of 2013. And today, in the year 2015 of our lord and savior, much like characters in a Jacobean play, those men are claiming drunkenness as their defense in an actual court of law.
“I was drunk” is not a passable defense for a DUI. “I was drunk” is not a passable defense for assault. “I was drunk” is not a passable defense for theft. “I was drunk” is not a passable defense for murder. And yet somehow, due to the increasingly backwards patriarchal society we’re living in, “I was drunk” is apparently a passable defense for rape.
Brandon Vandenburg, 20, and Cory Batey, 21, are currently on trial in Nashville for five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery of a woman, a 21-year-old neuroscience major who thus far has remained anonymous in the media, but has been reported as having spent the past few days sobbing in the court room. Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie are also charged in the case, but still awaiting trial.
Judge Monte Watkins ruled in a status hearing on January 9th that a “key expert witness” for Batey would be allowed to testify on Batey’s behalf, a ruling that the defense celebrated as “a small victory.” That expert witness is Dr. James Walker, who has testified in over 200 cases, and who is also willing to be the person who attempts to authenticate the defendants’ offensive claims that they were too drunk to be held accountable for their actions. Walker said, “People [also] have unwanted or unintended consequences of their alcohol abuse.”
The prosecution fortunately is not taking this asinine defense lightly, but is however rebutting the defense with equally unconventional tactics. The word “quesadilla” has now come into play, as Batey sent a text message after the crime asking a friend to bring him one as a post-rape snack. The prosecution is now arguing that if Batey could spell the word “quesadilla,” and find his way back to his own dorm room, then he in no way was too drunk to have known what he was doing to the victim. Fighting stupidity with stupidity might be exactly what could win this case for the prosecution.
The case against Vandenburg and Batey is damning, to say the least. There are photographs and video footage of the rape, both personally taken by the accused on cell phones during the crime, and security tapes of Batey carrying the unconscious woman into a dorm room. Friends of the accused from California were flown in this week to testify that the defendants requested that they destroy evidence on their personal phones and computers, like texts and emails sent after the crime, including a text from Vandenburg about his inability to get an erection that included the hashtag “penis probs,” as part of a plea deal for tampering with evidence.
These men not only horrifically violated a woman, but filmed it like an audition tape for “Most Disgusting Rapist,” and sent it out as some kind of digital trophy of their conquest (or proof of why castration should still be a legal punishment, you decide). The victim of the crime did not realize what had been done to her for three days, until police were called to the campus to address a “suspicious surveillance video,” and suggested the victim have a medical exam, which is likely the most terrifying way to find out you were sexually assaulted other than being conscious for it. The rape kit was administered between 80 and 90 hours from the incident, just over the ideal 72 hour time period, which has led the defense to also cling desperately to the irrelevant nugget that physical evidence is sparse.
To add to the victim’s unnecessary shame, the defense has also taken to blaming the crime on both the victim’s drunkenness, as well as social media. Defense attorneys have made remarks to the jury like “she drank quite a bit of alcohol,” and that the accused were compelled to rape because of “social media, that came in the way of television shows that glamorize and promote sexual activity…” To further prove the fast-acting and detrimental effects of victim-blaming, “Good Morning America” covered the trial on Tuesday and ineptly reported, “The defense says everyone made mistakes that night, even that victim.”
If a woman is drunk and gets raped, it is her fault, because she was drunk. If a man gets drunk and rapes someone, it is not his fault, because he was drunk. To call that glaring disparity a double standard, is like calling what happened on the Hindenburg a small cabin fire. With the mass of evidence against Vandenburg and Batey, and the prosecution staying sharply focused on the fact that drunkenness is not a legal defense, the defendants will likely be convicted. But it is crucial that we as a society take this trial as a glaring example that rape culture not only exists, but it is rampant. The legal precedent that will be set if the defendants are found not guilty—that a man can get off for rape if he just says he was drunk—will put women everywhere at serious risk. The fact that the defense is willing to take that risk in order to win a case is not just socially irresponsible, but morally reprehensible.