In 1998 a 24-year-old woman was gang raped by four men, two of whom were football players at Oregon State University. A sexual assault evidence kit was given by the victim. An investigation was done and the young men were arrested and charged.
The victim decided to not press charges because the ordeal, as it was described by the DA, would force her to relive those horrible hours over and over again. It was just too much. You see, she had been sexually abused as a child and suffered domestic abuse later in life. In her mind she had “worthless” and “use me” written all over her. No way she could stand up to that as a single mother of two preschool children.
In 2014 John Canzano, sports writer for the Oregonian newspaper interviewed and wrote a three part story on that survivor, who now wanted her name used with her story. The article won awards for the reporter, and Brenda Tracy, who had had many successes in life since the attack in 1998, finally told her story that she had held inside for 16 years.
Once Brenda’s story was out everyone wanted to hear more, even the athletic department at OSU whose coach at the time of the attack, Mike Riley, had called the actions of the (alleged) rapists a “bad choice.” As far as I can tell Brenda has said yes to every request to speak and help create laws to protect, and new policy in colleges.
By the time the story was published the statute of limitations had long expired on Brenda’s assault. In 2015 along with other rape survivors, including Danielle Tudor, Brenda used her newfound public esteem to help pass an extension of the statute of limitations from six years to twelve years.
After some between legislative session meetings including Brenda, Danielle and others from the legal community, on March 2, 2016, the Oregon House of Representatives joined the Senate by passing SB 1600.“if a prosecuting attorney obtains corroborating evidence of the crimes of rape in the first degree, sodomy in the first degree, unlawful sexual penetration in the first degree or sexual abuse in the first degree, after the period described in subsection (2) of this section, the prosecution may be commenced at any time after the commission of the crime.”
WHICH EFFECTIVELY ELIMINATES THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON (most) FIRST DEGREE SEX CRIMES IN OREGON!
God willing and the signature of Governor Kate Brown, it will become the law in Oregon Jan 1 2017!
This is not just Brenda’s story or her success. It is my story too, and that of tens of thousands of other survivors just in Oregon. I was part of a group of survivors of child sex abuse who worked together to extend the civil statute of limitations on child sex abuse in 2009 from age 24 to 40, and then tried for the next 5 years to eliminate the criminal.
There is always a key (besides the years of pain and suffering) that pushes us forward to activism to help change a system by which we felt betrayed. I think Brenda’s key was Mike Riley using the phrase “bad choice” for her gang rape. Mine was when the Bishop used the phrase “an incident of sexual misconduct” to describe my three years of sexual abuse by my pastor. The Bishop went on to say my offender “was no longer a licensed clergy, but he now assumes a different role as a lay member of a local church.” Those minimalizations for our pain and suffering are things survivors do not forget.
I made an oath to myself that I would work to see the end the criminal statute of limitations on sex crime before I die. Thanks to Brenda Tracy’s courage and John Canzano for helping her tell her story, I can go in peace… Well, actually there is a lot more to do. We need to add child sex abuse 1, production of child pornography, trafficking and a few others. But what amazing progress we have made!
I want to close first with a mountain of gratitude to Brenda Tracy and her amazing courage. I also want to honor these individuals who courageously shared their stories of child sex abuse at the capitol in Salem since 2009; Letty Merritt, Greg Hatton, Howard Kenyon, Lela Vox, Margie Boulé, Karla Benson, Vaughn Tidwell, Jessica and Gabby Barton (please forgive any omissions). There have been hundreds of others who have spoken, written and worked hard to see this day, including our dear friend and ally Kelly Clark.
In the end the change happened because of people telling their stories. And each time a survivor shares their story it empowers others to do the same. And then over time it changes the world around us for the better. So if you want to see more changes like this, help support a survivor to tell their story and we will fill the world with amazing people like the ones mentioned in this article.
May it be so.
Read Brenda’s story as told by John Canzano here.