Sexual assault survivor Brenda Tracy speaks out against sexual assault and institutional betrayal
*Trigger Warning: this article describes details of sexual assault that might be triggering.*
“There’s so many days I wish that I could just peel off all my skin so I couldn’t feel them on me.”
Brenda Tracy, the survivor of an alleged gang rape that occurred 16 years ago in Corvallis, spoke at the University of Oregon Thursday to speak out against sexual assault. Tracy told her story to members of the UO community gathered in the Knight Law School in order to humanize the issue of rape on college campuses.
Tracy’s visit was sponsored by the the UO Senate Intercollegiate Athletics Committee. Before Tracy spoke, Kurt Krueger, chair of the University of Oregon Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, addressed the audience.
“Sexual assault is endemic on campuses across the United States, and it is also unfortunately endemic here at the University of Oregon,” Krueger said.
As she recounted the events of her assault 16 years ago, Tracy spoke of her previous assaults from ages two to five and at nine years old before being sexually assaulted as a single mother in her early twenties.
After accompanying a friend to an apartment in Corvallis in 1998, Tracy was allegedly gang-raped by four men, two of whom were OSU football players. Tears rolled down Tracy’s cheeks as she recalled the assault, while several members of the audience wiped away their own.
When she woke up the morning after the assault, she had food crumbs and a used condom stuck to her body, gum in her hair.
“I can’t remember another time in my life when I felt so disgusting,” Tracy said.
What followed that night was a long road filled with depression and fear. Tracy had resolved to kill herself after she had completed a rape kit. But her interactions with her nurse Jenny, Jenenne Stanley, gave her the hope and motivation to continue living and to eventually become a nurse herself.
Tracy later dropped the charges against her perpetrators after she watched her support from her family and friends dwindle and received anonymous death threats. Still hoping to see justice, Tracy contacted OSU to find what had happened to the perpetrators beyond the one-game suspension she had read about at the time.
After going to school as a single mom, Tracy is now a registered nurse. She was successful, “on the outside,” Tracy said. In her day-to-day life, Tracy still struggled with PTSD.
“I hid from this monster of my rape for 16 years,” Tracy said.
Eventually, she could not hide anymore.
Tracy’s story resurfaced last year when John Canzano of The Oregonian wrote a series of columns about her assault after she reached out to him and decided to share her story.
A major part of that story, Tracy says, is institutional betrayal – a phrase coined by UO psychology professor Jennifer Freyd.
Last year, Tracy called OSU, looking for answers about what had happened when she reported her rape to the school. Getting answers wasn’t easy. She faced pushback when she first asked for records. Eventually, an investigation by The Oregonian and internal review by OSU discovered that the school never responded to Tracy after she reported the assault. The OSU students that attacked her were suspended from one football game. They served 25 hours of community service.
“Not only was I raped, but then all these people conspired against me because they decided that money and reputation and football was more important than my life,” Tracy said. “And that’s disgusting.”
OSU president Dr. Edward Ray publicly apologized to Tracy and has involved her in combatting sexual assault at OSU. She plans on speaking with OSU’s athletic teams and fraternity and sorority life groups in the fall. She hopes to get involved at UO as well.
During her talk, Tracy spoke of the countersuit that was made, and later dropped, by the UO against the survivor of alleged sexual assault, saying that there have been “grave mistakes” made by the UO.
“I feel really honored to be here on this campus for a couple reasons,” Tracy said. “One, because institutional betrayal has been going on on this campus.”
Tracy also gave credit to Freyd for her work regarding sexual assault and for coining the phrase “institutional betrayal.” For Tracy, the fact that Freyd gave her a label that described her experience was helpful in dealing with what had happened to her.
“When system betrays you in that way, it makes you question your worth,” Tracy said.
Since sharing her story in November, Tracy has been actively working on legislation to help survivors of assault. On Thursday, she described three bills currently in the works: HB 3476 would create confidential assault responders on college campuses, SB 759 would require colleges to providing easily-read information to survivors regarding their rights and the sexual assault reporting process, and HB 2317 would extending the statute of limitations to prosecute rape from six years to 12 years.
During the Q&A portion of the event, one graduate student expressed frustration as she has worked to try and create change on the UO campus.
“There are tons of people who are fighting to do the right thing and some of them are in this room, and who’s not here is the interim president, I don’t see the provost, I don’t see the dean of students,” she said.
“It’s hard for me not to feel hopeless,” the graduate student added.
Tracy’s response: “Please don’t give up.”
“I testify constantly to pass this legislation, I’m already working on legistlation for next year,” Tracy said. “I plan to do this for the rest of my life.”
Follow Francesca Fontana on Twitter @francescamarief