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

Within months, Tracy enrolled at a community college, determined to become a registered nurse. She eventually earned a bachelor's degree in nursing and a master's in business and health management.

From the outside, it might have seemed that she was moving onward, raising her two boys as a single mother, working hard enough to buy a house. No one could see the rage that simmered beneath the surface, the depression and the borderline eating disorder, the times when she lost her temper and yelled at her sons.

"Most days," she says, "I wanted to die."

It wasn't until 2014, upon turning 40, that Tracy realized something had to change. She sought counseling and talked to a lawyer about reviving her case, but the statute of limitations had long since run out.

Her thoughts returned to coach Riley and the words that still ate at her. "I didn't understand how gang rape was a 'bad choice,'" she says.

Searching the internet, she found an article about another incident in which Riley had given a similar light penalty to a player implicated in a domestic violence incident.

Around college football, Riley had always been known as a nice guy, not the yelling sort of coach, always cordial with reporters and fans. Tracy tapped out a furious, late-night message to the article's writer, telling him about her case, saying: "See? He's not a good guy."

A few minutes later, columnist John Canzano answered her email.

One conversation led to another. When Canzano suggested that others needed to hear her story, she agreed to an interview. People would later say she was brave, but courage had nothing to do with it.

"That was an act of desperation," she says.

In November 2014, the Oregonian published her story. After 16 years of living in what Tracy calls "a prison of silence and shame," she felt liberated. And the response was startling.

This time, the community sympathized as other victims came forward to support her. Edward Ray, named president of Oregon State in 2003, issued an apology, stating: "There is no statute of limitations on compassion or basic human decency. ... This is a moment from which each of us can learn. But it is mostly a moment for us to help Ms. Tracy heal."

Then came another surprise. In the years since the attack, Riley had left Oregon State to coach in the NFL before returning for a second stint at the school. The initial newspaper story and follow-up articles shook him.

"I knew I was wrong in the way I had treated the situation," he now says. "It was one of those deals where, man, you kind of wish it would go away, but I had to deal with it."

The coach asked to meet with Tracy, a request she ignored at first. The wound still ran too deep and there were other things to think about as she began visiting the state capital, successfully lobbying to extend the statute of limitation for rapes and create victim protection laws.

These efforts earned her a part-time consulting position at Oregon State and a Special Courage Award from the U.S. Justice Department, which proclaimed "her story and her work are changing the landscape of sexual assault prevention and response."

As for Riley, he left Oregon State to take a job running the marquee football program at the University of Nebraska. Still, he couldn't get Tracy off his mind.

"I didn't want it to be one of those things where, every night when you go to bed, you wish you had done it differently," he says.

The coach tried one more time, inviting her to Lincoln. ___ In the summer of 2016, she finally agreed to meet with Riley, sitting in his office for more than an hour and telling him how much his words had hurt, how much she hated him.

The worst thing you can do to sexual assault victims, Tracy says, is tell them to get over it. Or offer one of those apologies that begin with: I'm sorry, but ... .

Riley sat there and listened quietly before responding and, as Tracy recalls, "did a beautiful thing for me that day. He held himself accountable ... he didn't make excuses, he didn't rationalize ... none of that."

Later, they moved to an auditorium where scores of Nebraska players waited. Riley thought they could learn something from Tracy.

It was the first time she shared her story with a group of strangers and she was terrified. Would they believe her?

Would they even listen?

"You could hear a pin drop in that room," Riley says. "She's very transparent in the way she talks and, whatever gift that is, it really makes you think, this is a real person who was really affected by a bad, tragic situation."

In what would become a recurring scene, players stepped forward to hug her at the end. A few hovered on the periphery, waiting for a chance to quietly give what Tracy calls their "disclosures."

Occasionally, a man will tell her that he has been wrongly accused of rape. More often, her listeners talk about a mother or sister who has been assaulted.

"There is so much pain in every single room that I go in. So many people think they are alone."

When news of the meeting spread through the media, high schools and colleges began calling, asking Tracy to address their teams.

Her schedule is now packed with schools willing to pay a speaking fee plus expenses. In 13 scheduled appearances from last fall to January, she traveled from Minnesota to Louisiana, from Ohio to Virginia.

After an appearance at the University of Michigan last summer, the players invited her back as an honorary captain, accompanying her to midfield for the coin toss before their early September game against Western Michigan.

"We all learned so much from Brenda," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh says. "Her story is amazing, her work is amazing."

The talks are emotionally taxing and there are people who troll her online, questioning her honesty, her motives.

She pencils "self-care" days into her calendar, staying home in pajamas, eating bowls of Raisin Bran Crunch or Lucky Charms and watching movies on the couch.

"Comedies, action movies, stuff I don't have to think about," she says. "I tell my family we're not talking about rape that day."

Near the end of her talk at Sacramento State, with the audience so quiet, still listening intently after an hour, she offers one statistic, one message.

If women could stop sexual violence, she says, they would have done so long ago. Her focus turns to the men in the room, but if they are expecting bitterness or a scolding, they get something different.

Citing studies on rape perpetration, Tracy suggests that roughly 10 percent of the male population is responsible for the great majority of sexual violence. She tells the men: "I'm not here because I think you're the problem. I think you're the solution.

"I travel the country and talk to the 90 percent," she continues. "I ask them to step up and take a stand."

If you see a rape, do something to stop it. If you hear about an attack, tell someone.

When she finishes with this appeal, loud applause breaks the silence, athletes rising in ones and twos, then in larger groups, until everyone is standing. They pour down to the court, men and women, to hug her. Some have tears in their eyes.

"It's so heartfelt," says Devan Graves, an 18-year-old baseball player. "I don't think you really understand until you hear it."

As always, a few young men and women linger at the edge of the crowd, waiting for a chance to speak with Tracy in private.

"All the stories I hear," she says. "For some of them, I'm the first person they've talked to about it." The fear she always feels before addressing a crowd has dissipated, replaced by exhaustion and that honest smile. Tracy has never tried to contact her attackers and has no interest in hearing from them, she seems to find closure in moments like these.

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