In June, a former Vanderbilt University football player was convicted of raping an unconscious woman in her dorm room. In July, a second Vanderbilt football player was convicted of the same gang rape. And last week a third ex-member of the Vanderbilt football team was brought up on sexual abuse charges, this time stemming from a sex-trafficking sting.
Twenty-year-old Rashad Canty, a former wide receiver for the Vanderbilt University football team, was one of 41 people arrested in a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation sting on human trafficking. Posing as underage girls, TBI agents posted advertisements on sex work sites like Backpage.com. Nearly 485 men allegedly responded to the ads, resulting in 41 arrests, including that of the former Vanderbilt football player.
Football and sexual misconduct are pervasive on Vanderbilt’s campus, students report. The former is the pride of the school, a Division I team splashed across prospective student materials. The latter is a shameful secret too many students know about. A 2016 student survey distributed by Vanderbilt University found that nearly one in 10 students had experienced unwanted sexual contact the previous year. The figures are far greater than Vanderbilt’s official numbers on sexual misconduct, which reflect 23 reported sexual assaults in 2014.
Vanderbilt football was already embroiled in rape allegations when Canty joined in 2014. Five team members—two now convicted—were accused of a horrific sexual assault in 2013, raping an unconscious undergraduate in a freshman dorm and urinating on her face. The victim only learned of the assault later, when she saw the photos and videos her assailants had taken of the act.
Dorm security footage captured the football players dragging the unconscious woman down a hallway. But it would take two more years, and multiple accusations of cover-ups within the Vanderbilt administration, before any of the players faced convictions for the assault.
Amid these allegations against his teammates, Canty joined the Vanderbilt team in 2014 as a redshirt freshman, a practice-only designation that allows athletes to continue playing for the team in their fifth year of college. Canty never played a league game for Vanderbilt, dropping off the roster in 2015 for medical reasons. But his Twitter account still portrays him as an active member of the team, dressed in the Vanderbilt football uniform.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation called their sting “Operation Someone Like Me,” alluding to people trafficked into sex work. On Aug. 2 through Aug. 4, TBI agents posed as underage women on Backpage.com, prompting nearly 6,000 people to message them, soliciting sex. Police say one of those people was Canty.
“In a tough spot without much time,” Canty tweeted on Aug. 4, in apparent reference to his arrest.
TBI officials say some of the men responding to the Backpage ads specifically requested underage girls, though it is unclear whether Canty was among them.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said in a statement on the operation. “This is all demand-driven. These men paying for sex with children in our state are only continuing to victimize girls and women. It’s wrong, it’s illegal, and we will pursue these operations in small towns and big cities for as long as it takes.”
Vanderbilt University did not respond to a Sunday request for comment.
The university has also been tight-lipped about other charges against its former football players, including the five accused of the 2013 gang rape in a freshman dorm. Following the 2013 assault, sources at Vanderbilt accused the school’s football coach, James Franklin, of being involved in covering up the attack, a charge he vehemently denies.
(“I’m 99.9 percent sure that Franklin saw the video,” one anonymous source told BuzzFeed of video depicting the rape.)
Other Vanderbilt students accuse the school of harboring a broader “rape culture,” one that excuses the perpetrators while vilifying victims. After a female student reported being raped at a Vanderbilt frat house in February 2014, students tore into her character on an anonymous message board. (Sample comments, as unearthed by Vanderbilt’s college newspaper include “crazy,” “crazy bitch,” “manic depressive,” “psycho,” and “NASTY AS SHIT.”) It’s a culture of permissiveness for students accused sexual misconduct, especially those in protected positions on sports teams or fraternities.
Canty, arrested on charges of soliciting prostitution, appears to maintain his innocence.
“I’m gone be good. Big misunderstanding.” he tweeted, adding later, “Y’all know my character. I’m gone be good.”