-- A jury in a Nashville courtroom Thursday watched surveillance footage that the prosecution says shows a young woman being carried to a Vanderbilt University dorm room moments before she was allegedly sexually assaulted. It’s a situation that the defense argues was fueled by binge drinking and college culture.
The footage was just some of the graphic details prosecutors presented in accusing four former Vanderbilt football players of being involved in an alleged rape of a female classmate. Prosecutors claim that surveillance video shows the alleged victim being carried by Brandon Vandenburg to his dorm that night, accompanied by Cory Batey and two other men, where she was sexually assaulted within minutes of being in the room.
Prosecutors say the woman – a neuroscience major at the university – was allegedly drunk and passed out when the incident occurred. Vandenburg was the boyfriend of the alleged victim, who ABC has declined to name.
“She doesn’t remember anything until the next morning, approximately 8 o’clock,” prosecutor Tom Thurman said.
“Little did she know that day that had such great promise for her turned into her worst nightmare. A nightmare she relived for a long time.”
Vandenburg and Batey are charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. The other two ex-players accused of being involved in the incident, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, also face charges of rape and sexual battery, but have not yet gone to trial. They are expected to testify against Vanderburg and Batey. All have pleaded not guilty.
According to prosecutors, the four players, who’ve since been kicked off the team, laughed at the victim before they allegedly assaulted her. Vandenburg also allegedly recorded the assault on his phone and is also charged with one count of tampering with evidence and one count of unlawful photography. Prosecutors claim Vandenburg sent pictures and video of the attack to his friends, and later searched online how to delete photos so the police can’t find them.
Prosecutors then accused the former players texted each other about the alleged attack, trying to cover it up.
The defense will argue the young men are not guilty of rape, but rather of making a mistake. Batey’s lawyer Worrick Robinson claims that college culture put his client in this situation.
“It was a culture that encouraged sexual promiscuity but not, not just alone, it was also a culture of alcohol, and alcohol consumption. Alcohol that changed him, changed others, and changed several people on the morning of June 23, 2013,” Robinson said.
The trial comes on the heels of a national debate about the prevalence of rapes on college campuses. Roughly 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date-rape each year, according to the National institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Many sexual assaults are never reported, psychotherapist Robi Ludwig said.
“What's frightening is girls who go into college may have an increased risk of getting raped than girls who don't. So that's stating that we have a problem in terms of how women are being experienced like objects that don't matter. It's almost like a ‘caveman mentality’ view of women,” Ludwig said.
In the Vanderbilt situation, school authorities reported the situation to police.
ABC News legal analyst Ryan Smith said the case will hinge on digital evidence.
“The surveillance tape is critical because it tells the story of what happened leading up to the alleged assault,” Smith said. “The critical thing I think are going to be these video tapes that Brandon Vandenburg, one of the defendants allegedly took with a cell phone. Not only videos, but photos. If those depict the kids raping this young girl, that’s it, game over.”
Journalist Roxanne Jones has covered many rape cases. She’s also a mother with a son in college. In 2013 she wrote a controversial op-ed about the advice she’s given her son – to receive consent through text message before and after engaging in sexual activity.
“An app has come out that you can now do exactly this. It’s not perfect, but get a text that shows what the mood was before you guys had sex,” she said. “And everyone laughs at this, but you can use this technology to describe or at least get an acknowledgement that you’re coming to the room to hook up and have sex and text the next day and say ‘It was great, love to see you again,’ or ‘I never want to see you again.’”
However parents have “the conversation,” experts insist that it must be shared.
“Find out what the college you’re considering is doing about these kinds of incidents. And look at the history. What does the history of the college tell you about how they handle these crimes? What kind of intervention do they make?” Ludwig said.
“And the other piece is to have an open dialogue with your child. Let them know these kind of things are happening and to take the precautions they need to take.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report