Editor’s Note: Victim’s last name has been removed at her request
VINCENNES, Ind. — Knox County Superior Judge Gara Lee sentenced a Florida man to two consecutive 40-year prison terms for the rape and beating of a Vincennes University coed in 2008.
Gustav Ryburn was charged with Burglary Causing Serious Bodily Injury and Criminal Deviate Conduct for attacking Brittany at her off-campus apartment late one night.
It was a DNA sample from a member of Ryburn’s family that was matched to evidence collected at the time of the attack which led to his arrest more than a decade after the rape.
Brittany remembers almost everything about the night of Nov. 21, 2008.
“I was sexually assaulted and battered,” she said. ”I remembered most of it from the start, but the mind does block things out. As the years went through, I kept remembering other things or get flashbacks.”
Brittany is five feet tall and maybe one hundred pounds.
Between what she recalled right away and remembered years later, Brittany relived being attacked by a man who snuck into her ground-floor apartment through an unsecured sliding glass door, how he stormed into her bedroom in the dark and picked her out because he said she was small and wouldn’t make a noise, how he photographed her during the assault, slapped her when she wouldn’t perform to his orders, choked her out and left her for dead.
”After the attack and during the attack he’s basically telling you, ‘Don’t tell anyone,’ and, that was very rough.”
Brittany’s roommate awoke on the couch in the living room after the attack and delivered her to the hospital where photographs show the bruised blonde in bed.
What followed were years of pain and shame and tortured memories and the recounting of details too intimate and horrible to say out loud.
”You’re terrified to go out of the house. It’s very tough,” she said now almost 14 years after that nightmare. ”I feel like I wasn’t the first and I feel like I wasn’t the last and I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I went through.”
It was that determination and inner steel that got Brittany and her family through the last decade and more, never denying or forgetting what happened but ever more committed to getting past it and not letting a brutal stranger turn one bad night into a ruined lifetime.
”It was very difficult,” she said as detectives tried to be realistic but encouraging about her investigation. “Giving you hope a lot of the times and then back to square one and needing to find a new suspect, but I never lost hope.”
Brittany was not only the target of the rapist while also being the best witness police had, but she was the barometer for those around her to gauge how everyone could process and pace their own recoveries from her attack.
“Just be very supportive,” she advises to anyone trying to help a victim through their trauma. “As a victim, it’s difficult to talk about. And the victim’s family, too. Give them time.”
Time was on Brittany’s side, but it was running out for Gustav Ryburn.
In early 2009, Ryburn’s brother went to Vincennes Police and intimated that he thought his brother had committed the rape, but the tipster backed out when he was asked to submit a DNA sample.
A new detective on the case reread the old notes, put the brother under surveillance and came up with evidence that moved the investigators’ case closer to their suspect.
Brittany remembered the detective’s phone call in the spring of 2021.
”’We have a suspect who matched DNA,’” she was told. ”They found him in Florida.”
Last month, Brittany faced down her attacker who was charged with Burglary and Criminal Deviate Conduct and was face-to-face with him for the first time since that night in her apartment bedroom.
”You could tell he was the same person but he had changed,” she said. ”Just the way he looked and I also heard the voice and I knew.
”The eyes. You could just tell.
”It’s hard but I know the DNA is correct.”
Brittany testified and told her story.
It took less than an hour for jurors to agree that they believed her and voted unanimously to convict Ryburn.
”It was like a rock lifted off of you but I believe everything will be lifted when I can see him get handcuffed,” said Brittany. ”It’s very important. I don’t have to live in fear.”
Brittany made it a point to call me up in August, more than ten years after we first met, to tell me that her attacker had been caught and was going to prison.
All she needed to do was deliver a Survivor’s Impact Statement in court today.
I asked her how she welled up the courage to face her attacker.
”By not letting him win,” she said. “By fighting just like I did that night for my life. I want my life back.”
I told Brittany that during one night a long time ago, her attacker had control over her and terrified her, but now, she was the one in control and he was the one who was afraid.
”I’m not a quitter,” she said. “I’m a survivor, a fighter.”
You can read Brittany’s statement to the court and to Gustav Ryburn below.