In the early morning hours of June 23, 2013, a group of excessively inebriated college football players attending Vanderbilt University had non-consensual sex with an unconscious, inebriated young woman. Our legal system defines this as rape. And that’s what it is. But the defendants, several of whom are now standing trial, are attempting to blame the culture at Vanderbilt for forcing them to drink excessively and commit non-consensual sexual acts upon an unconscious young woman. They are blaming a culture which forced bystanders to ignore what was happening to an innocent victim of a group of sexually opportunistic predators. This passing the buck of culpability is as old as the phrase, “The Devil made me do it.”
There seems to be plenty of blame to go around, but few are actually ready to accept that blame. Yes, there is a culture of drunken debauchery that permeates many universities, and has for some time, in which inebriated sex is considered the norm. However, to claim that the influence of excessive amounts of alcohol—such as the amount defendant Corey Batey claims to have been under, perhaps 14 to 22 drinks in one night—necessarily exonerates or exculpates such an individual of any personal accountability for wrongdoing while inebriated is nonsense. In our current legal system, a drunk driver is still held accountable for the deaths he or she causes while driving under the influence of alcohol. One cannot place blame upon the alcohol, exculpating the driver because he would not have done such a heinous thing if he were in his right mind. Until we live in a world, or benefit from a legal system, that can determine the exact level of malice one might have had prior to the consumption of alcohol, or one in which we can entirely place the blame of one’s actions upon a bottle of booze and send it to jail instead of the one consuming it, we must still hold the individual accountable for his or her crimes. In this case, it is the individual rapist who must be held accountable, regardless of whether he was excessively inebriated and had no control over his crimes. Several of them in this case had enough control over their faculties to operate their cell phones and record evidence of the act for posterity—or perhaps bragging rights.
The same goes for any situation in which some seek to blame a drug or a device or a thing for one’s actions. Many have attempted to hold firearms manufacturers responsible for the crimes of the few mentally unstable or criminally inclined individuals who seize hold of them and use them to kill innocent people, even children—such as at Sandyhook—claiming that the manufacturers have made these weapons far too easily available to a market that should not have access to these, thereby endangering the rest of society. This is part of a larger trend in which our helplessness against the unfairness or vicissitudes of life causes us to seek to blame larger structures instead of holding individuals accountable or recognizing that some tragedies are unavoidable and we are helpless in reversing or undoing them. Or when the perpetrator is no longer available for punishment, as in the case of Adam Lanza, we seek the next nearest target for our blame and anger.
Yes, there is a culture of omerta in many situations and organizations, in which no one wishes to get involved and stop a crime that they see happening. Yes, there is a culture in which college students are encouraged to drink to excess and to have sexual relations with ever increasing numbers of people, as if one’s sexual organs were nothing more than toys. And yes, there is a culture in which people no longer bother to speak up when they see something wrong, preferring to walk away or let someone else handle it, or worse yet, that it’s not their place to speak up and impose their will on someone else—even that of a rapist. But a culture that exonerates mob mentality, and which seeks to shift blame away from the individual and onto society, does not invest sufficient value in the capabilities of human beings. Without our individual consciences, we are nothing more than animals—and animals cannot be brought to trial. Animals cannot be trusted to go to college, nor can they be trusted to operate a government, or safeguard the planet.
Corey Batey or Brandon Vandenburg (the present defendants), or any in their position, might claim that they simply were too drunk to know what they were doing, and that they have no recollection of what they were doing, nor did they have any control over what they were doing. Well, unfortunately for them, they were the entities living inside the bodies of drunken young men who failed to stop themselves from acting upon their basest, most animalistic urges to copulate with the nearest available female (willing or not). And there must be accountability. On one hand, allowing herself to become so drunk that she was unable to ensure her own safety in a strange environment was not the wisest of choices for a young woman—much like exiting one’s vehicle in a wild animal park—but on the other hand, she most certainly did not bargain for this kind of treatment merely on account of becoming so inebriated that she passed out in a room that was not her own. She did not ask to be raped. If Batey or Vandenburg were not merely rapists, but murderers as well, who subsequently slit her throat after defiling her unconscious body, would critics still claim that the fault were her own for putting herself in that situation? I think not. And defilement is what this is; not a sex act, but an act of violence. There is a difference. The choice to be sexually assaulted was not her own. Her lapse of judgment in engaging in excessive drinking is an entirely separate matter, hardly relevant to the matter of criminal culpability in a case of rape.
I am reminded of an old college song called “Let Her Sleep Under the Bar, Boys,” in which the narrator playfully disparages the sexual recklessness of college men, and reminds the listener that for the sake and honor of all of their mothers and sisters, and women everywhere, not to molest or be unkind to the inebriated woman in their midst, urging the hearer to protect her and let her sleep it off in a safe place where no one will accost her. We often consider the old days of all-male colleges as being less sensitive to women, and more rife with a culture of rape. But I believe this song expresses a particular respect for women that has been lost to us today, even amidst our culture of professed liberation and enlightenment about gender roles. Vanderbilt and other schools like it could take a lesson from this song from the days of yore. Leave her alone and show her the respect that is owed to your mother or sister.