By Detailing The Horrific Events Of Her Gang Rape, One Woman Fights To End Sexual Violence On College Campuses

By David Wharton
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Rape Survivor Brenda Tracy is sharing one of worst nights of her life to bring awareness to sexual violence.

LOS ANGELES

The buzz of the lights. That is all you can hear in this big gymnasium, the buzz of the lights overhead and the sound of Brenda Tracy’s voice, which remains steady even as she begins to cry.

Her gaze shifts to the floor, if only for a moment. Standing alone on an empty basketball court, she straightens up and looks at the hundreds of people watching from the stands.

Dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, Tracy resumes telling them about the night so long ago when she stopped by a friend’s apartment. She recalls the football players who were there, how they persuaded her to have a drink, how she passed out a short time later.

“The first time I regained consciousness, I became immediately aware I was laying on my back on the floor,” she says. “I was naked and I couldn’t move my arms or legs.”

The man on her left tried to force her to have oral sex. So did the man on her right.

“So I turned from them and looked up and the third man was raping me,” she says. “And I remember feeling like I was trying to say or yell ‘Stop.'”

Twenty years later, this is what the 45-year-old mother of two does, traveling the country to stand before strangers and share her most awful memory. She has appeared before 110,000 fans at Michigan’s football stadium and 15 or so players on a basketball team. This crusade, which started years before the #MeToo movement, takes her any place where people will listen.

On this night, at Sacramento State, the school has made attendance mandatory for all of its athletes. A half-hour earlier, the 500 or so young men and women walked in chatting, laughing, searching for friends to sit beside; now they have fallen quiet, leaning forward, some of them lowering their heads.

Tracy has no memorized speech, no notes or litany of statistics about sexual violence in America. She hits her audience with something different: sheer honesty, a graphic and unflinching description of that night.

“The next time I came into consciousness, one of the men was cradling me in his arm and he was pouring a bottle of hard alcohol down my throat and I was choking and gagging on it,” she says. “And I passed out again.”

In theory, this was supposed to get easier for her, the telling, but it hasn’t. Wiping away tears, she says: “I’ve shared my story at least 80 times, and I cannot go back into that apartment and tell you what they did to me without feeling this intense amount of shame and embarrassment and pain.”
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Something about Tracy suggests a quiet strength. Something about the angle of her shoulders, the straight, dark bangs that frame an earnest smile.

Her presentation begins with a warning, “The things I’m going to talk about are uncomfortable”, and a vow that the tale will be “kind of rough and hard but it gets better. And there is hope at the end.”

Hope in the form of new laws she has spearheaded to bolster victims’ rights in her home state of Oregon. Hope in the form of national awards she has received and sports organizations, such as the Big Sky Conference, that have adopted her policies to address sexual violence on campus.

But getting to the good part is tough. First you have to make it through the night of June 24, 1998.

To that point, her life had not been easy. Tracy tells the audience that, while growing up, she was abused on separate occasions by a relative and a baby sitter’s boyfriend. Pregnant in high school, she was disowned by some in her family because the father was black.

That relationship produced two boys but was marked by abuse and ended in divorce. Tracy was 24, dating an Oregon State football player, when she tagged along with a girlfriend to an apartment that belonged to another player on the team. The girlfriend soon retreated to a bedroom with one of the men, leaving Tracy alone with two Oregon State athletes, a junior college player and a high school recruit.

If there is any small mercy in what happened next, it is that Tracy estimates she was conscious for only a small fraction of an ordeal that lasted six hours. Her fragmented memories include pleading with the men at some point, telling them she felt nauseated.

“So one of them picked me up kind of like a rag doll and carried me to the bathroom,” she says. “He laid me over the counter and he shoved my head into the bathroom sink and, as I was vomiting on myself in the sink, he was raping me from behind.”

The next morning, she woke on the floor, still naked, with food crumbs and bits of potato chips pressed into her skin. Gum was stuck in her hair.

“I mostly just remember, in that moment, feeling like a piece of trash. I was a piece of trash they had forgotten on the living room floor,” she says. “I didn’t even feel like a human.”

Her girlfriend urged her to forget about what had happened, but, after speaking briefly with police, Tracy and her mother went to the hospital for a rape exam. The next day, the four men were arrested.

Any sense of justice was short-lived.

In the days that followed, the community seemed to turn against the unnamed accuser, siding with the popular Oregon State team, openly wondering why this woman, some people guessed who she was, went to the apartment that night, why she drank alcohol.

“This happened 20 years ago, but it’s exactly the same thing that still happens today,” she says. “Any time a person comes forward, especially against an athlete or certain men in positions of power, it’s ‘Who is she? What’s in it for her?'”

In interviews contained in a Corvallis Police Department report from 1998, the suspects said Tracy had consumed only one gin-and-orange juice but had seemed drunk. All four recall her saying “No” or asking to be left alone at some point. They all tended to minimize their participation in various sex acts that occurred, more often implicating one another.

One suspect described the incident as “risky” and another, when asked if Tracy’s version was true, replied: “Kind of.”

Still, she recalls that prosecutors warned her the case might drag on for years and be difficult to prove. When she ultimately decided not to cooperate, the charges were dropped.

“The witness has not recanted or changed the statements she originally gave to the police,” Pam Hediger, a Benton County prosecutor, told The Associated Press then. “Part of the decision and process is that she doesn’t want any more of the public exposure than she’s already had.”

Oregon State conducted a separate investigation, but when the next season came around, the two football players inside the apartment received suspensions of only one game each.

Coach Mike Riley told the media that his players were good young men who made “a bad choice.”
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When a woman is raped, her body becomes a crime scene. The rape kit exam is long and invasive, requiring that evidence be gathered from hair, fingernails and genitalia.

It is, as Tracy says, “the very last thing you want to do after you’ve been assaulted.”

But something unexpected occurred that day when her mother took her to the hospital. A nurse named Jenny attended to her in a manner both caring and dignified. Struck by this saving grace, Tracy began asking questions.

“Jenny would say, ‘Brenda, we have to do the vaginal exam,’ and I said, ‘OK, how did you become a nurse?'” she recalls. “And she said, ‘Brenda, we have to pluck 10 head hairs and 10 pubic hairs,’ and I said, ‘Jenny, where did you go to school?'”

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