Margaret Eby
January 29, 2015 1:43 pm

If you’ve been following along with the trial of two former Vanderbilt University football players accused of gang-raping a young unconscious woman, you know that on Tuesday, both of the former football stars, Corey Batey and Brandon Vandenburg, were convicted. Two more men await trail. The verdict was reached in less than four hours.

That’s a huge deal. Batey and Vandenburg could be sentenced to dozens of years behind bars, even as first-time offenders. And more importantly, the verdict is sending a clear signal to victims of sexual assault that justice is possible, and that their stories matter.

The ongoing epidemic of on-campus sexual violence is facilitated by a system that too often boils down to shaming and victim blaming women for their own assault. For decades, women have opted to stay silent rather than be torn apart in public — stats estimate that 80% of campus rapes go unreported and it is common knowledge that victims often feel more comfortable going to deans than to police. But the Vanderbilt verdict is a major step in indicating that sexual violence on-campus is being taken seriously by the courts, and hopefully will be a big step in changing the conversation around and about on-campus assault.

The victim of the case (who is not being named by most news outlets, including us) wanted to emphasize the hope that this verdict brought. “I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame,” she said in a statement through one of the prosecuting attorneys.

Of course, this case is an exception in many ways, both in the scale of the sexual violence that the victim experienced and the overwhelming evidence that put the perpetrators at the scene, including cell phone records and video footage of the football players carrying the victim’s unconscious body into a dorm room.

But the message is still clear: Behavior like this is criminal and unacceptable. As Beth Fortune, the vice chancellor of academic affairs, said to USA Today, “Incidents will be investigated, victims will be supported, and perpetrators will be punished. We will also continue our comprehensive ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of every Vanderbilt student intervening when another student is at risk or in distress.”

Hopefully the verdict here will encourage more victims to come forward and to feel, yes, a little less alone.

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