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A Culture of Rape

I recently watched a 20/20 episode entitled “Reversal of Fortune”. 20/20 was reporting on a newly granted mistrial in the case of two Vanderbilt University football players, Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, who were convicted of aggravated rape and sexual battery. 

In January of this year, the two men were sentenced to jail. Now, due to what 20/20 described as a “failure to disclose” violation by one of the jurors, who was the actual jury foreperson, the judge declared a mistrial.  Both men are now out of jail and under GPS ankle monitoring. A new trial with a new jury is expected.

Before watching this 20/20 episode, I was not too terribly familiar with the case, having only seen snippets of it on social media. After watching the episode, I was really disturbed and had these questions: from where did we get this culture of rape? When did our society devolve into one which objectifies women?

According to 20/20, a night of drinking between the 20-year-old Vandenburg and an unnamed 21-year-old neuroscience major resulted in her being passed out in his car. Allegedly, Vandenburg drives her to his dorm and the security footage appears to show him going inside and returning with several of his teammates. Another female, presumably another student, can clearly be seen in the video walking over to the vehicle and viewing the passed out woman. But, she appears not to intervene. Instead, she walks away from the car and away from the dorm.

The campus surveillance evidence seems to show the football players carrying the unconscious woman inside the dorm, leaving her lying on the hallway floor. Two of them proceed to photograph her with their cellphones, and later they carry her into the dorm room of Vandenburg. According to the timestamps on the security footage, she is not seen again for 30 minutes.

Law enforcement was eventually able to retrieve a video that Vandenburg allegedly took with his cellphone of what transpired inside his dorm room, because Vandenburg allegedly sent that video to two of his childhood friends, 2100 miles away in California. According to 20/20, one of his friends responds to his video with a text message suggesting that they “gang bang” her. The actual cellphone video was not presented in this 20/20 episode. However, 20/20 reported that it shows the unconscious female student was penetrated with objects, including a water bottle, while Vandenburg, Batey, Brandon Banks*, and Jaborian McKenzie* were in his dorm room.

During the trial, Batey’s defense attorney attempted to blame the actions of that night on the drinking and partying culture of Vanderbilt University. Still, I am left with so many questions! 

Why did Vandenburg take a drunk and unconscious woman back to his dorm, instead of trying to help her? Sure, 20/20 reported that the alleged cellphone footage from inside the dorm room shows that Vandenburg never penetrated the woman. However, according to 20/20, the prosecution maintains that Vandenburg’s voice can be heard on the video laughing and encouraging the other football players, Cory Batey, Brandon Banks, and Jaborian McKenzie. 

And why did the girl who saw her passed out with all the football players circling, just leave?

It says a lot about our culture that Brandon Vandenburg drove a passed out girl to his dorm room and went inside to get his teammates. It says a lot about our culture that his fellow football teammates carried her inside.  It says a lot about our culture that another woman looks at her, passed out in his car and just walks away, offering no help and not calling the campus police. It said a lot about our culture that Vandenburg's childhood friend texted him to either "gang bang her" or "don't let her wake-up".

So, how has this culture of rape, disrespect, and devaluing others entered into our lives and into our congregations? When did we stop caring for one another and looking after each other? Even if the night began with poor decisions, how did it spiral so far downward that lives and careers are now ruined? What are we to learn from this and how can we teach our children differently? How can we, as a church, fight against this culture of rape? 

That unnamed female student is someone's daughter. She might even be a member of someone's church. We do not know. On the 20/20 episode, you could see both Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg with a Bible in their hands when they walked out of jail, in June. The news story even commented on that detail. How is the church prepared to respond to situations like this, when this could have happened to anyone's son, anyone's daughter?

*Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, also face rape and sexual battery charges, but have not yet gone to trial.

Editor's note: Safe Church, a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church, has knowledgeable staff people and many resources to help churches deal with issues of abuse. 

[Image: Flickr user Robert S. Donovan]

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