Q&A: Brenda Tracy, survivor of alleged sexual assault involving OSU football players

Brenda Tracy, the survivor of an alleged assault involving Oregon State University football players in 1998, spoke on Thursday at the University of Oregon’s Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics about how universities can better respond to sexual assault.

Since first opening up about her story in November, Tracy has been active in Salem; she’s working on legislation to increase confidential resources for assault survivors, legally require schools to provide information to students about the assault reporting process and extend the time period during which survivors can pursue legal action.

The Emerald sat down with Tracy on Thursday afternoon to discuss her visit, her advocacy work, her views on combatting assault and improving university response to the crime.

Here are a few of the questions we asked:

How do you think assault could be handled better on campuses? 

For one, there has to be transparency. Transparency. Honesty. Open communication. We have to talk about what’s really going on. In my case, a lot of it had to do with reputation of the school, gift giving, and money; … there are a lot of ulterior motives and I think we have to address those issues.

If there’s pressure on administrations to look a certain way … we have to expose that so we can change it. If we don’t talk about what’s going on behind closed doors, it’s going to continue to happen.

And we need to create a system that’s not punitive, so you’re not getting in trouble if you reported rape on campus. You’re being rewarded because not only did you report it, you’re dealing with it. You’re handling it. We have to get past being afraid of a bad reputation … we just have to change the dynamic and the conversation.

A lot of the efforts right now are in response to sexual assault and rape – what are your hopes for prevention?

When I first came out with my story I started thinking what exactly do I want my niche to be?  I tried to look up what sort of prevention and education programs there are for men. And there are only a couple, versus a thousand [programs] for women … So my hope in the future is to speak and educate and really focus on young men.

[And] the idea that men can’t control themselves is kind of insulting to me. I think there’s many, many men that would not rape a woman if they had the opportunity to do so. So the fact that we act like “boys will be boys” or that they can’t control themselves is ridiculous. I have two sons — they are 20 and 22 — and they’re gentlemen. I highly doubt that they would do anything like that. They’re not animals. So I think we also need to empower men to hold each other accountable and to talk to each other.

We’ve got to get the men involved. If the men aren’t involved, where are you at? Nowhere.

Focusing on your specific vein of advocacy, what would you have to say to young men coming into college?

First off, I think we need to talk to men about healthy masculinity and what’s masculine. The things we say to men like, “Stop acting like a girl” or, “You’re being a bitch.” What are we saying about women when men are having these conversations? … Let’s make it cool to respect women. Let’s make it cool to speak up. Let’s make it cool to not have a rape culture on campus. And we can do that sort of stuff the same way we deal with other big social issues.

How would you suggest a peer or a friend respond if someone tells them they have been a victim of sexual violence? 

Really empower them to know that they did the right thing by coming forward and talking about it. We have to have discussions about [victim-blaming]. The victim is already blaming and shaming themselves .. we have to be the people who diffuse that and stop that and say: “Nope, stop that right there. This did not happen because you drank; this did not happen because you were are a party.”

You’ve had people tell you you’re a hero for sharing your story. Do you feel like a hero? 

People say that, but I don’t feel like that. I just feel like I’m a person with a story. It’s not easy. Even today, I don’t have anything prepared. I just know that I’ll go on and talk about my experience. I don’t have to study it. I don’t have to look up statistics. There are other people that do that — Jennifer Freyd does that. I just put a face to it. Helping other people helps me to heal. But a hero? No. It’s an honor for me to do it.


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Sami Edge

Sami Edge

Sami is the Editor In Chief of The Emerald. Former intern at Willamette Week and aspiring international investigative reporter. Swimmer, writer, dreamer, reader, thinker, explorer and drinker of strong coffee.