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.
Apparently as a society we have devolved into a culture that labels our children that report being sexually assaulted “accusers”. How long will it take for the news media to quit using language to describe sexual assault that is totally dismissive of victims and supportive of offenders? It’s broadly known as victim blaming. Make it the victim’s fault and show what a great guy the offender is and always use language that softens the seriousness of the crime.
This week marked the conclusion of the trial of Owen Labrie in Concord, New Hampshire. He was accused of raping a fellow student when he was 18 and she was 15. Evidently at St. Paul’s Prep School there is a tradition called “Senior Salute” where senior boys try to take the virginity of freshman girls. Now if that is not predatory behavior I don’t know what is!
In reporting this story two CNN reporters, Aaron Cooper and Boris Sanchez labeled the 15 year old victim an accuser, not once, not twice, but six times! Virtually every time they spoke of her it was “the accuser.” I would like to ask Mr. Cooper, Mr. Sanchez, and the leadership at CNN News, at what point does someone become a victim in your minds? God forbid, but if your son or daughter were raped would you call them an accuser? Or would you hold and rock your baby as they cried away their fear and shame after surviving such a vile indignity?
The term of “accuser” used for a victim of sexual assault was brought into common usage in 2004 in the rape trial of Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant. His lawyers made sure that label was used in every article and interview when describing Bryant’s alleged victims. It was a defense tactic to put the victim of a crime in a bad light and to create doubt.
There is no other crime where the reporting alleged victim is referred to as an accuser. I find it quite curious that as a culture we work so hard to discredit victims of sexual violence above any other crime. As in the case of Kobe Bryant the victim was put on trial here. This 16 year old victim was on the stand for an entire day defending herself.
At the same time it is quite interesting to note how much energy is put into showing what great guys the accused offenders are. In this article, the now convicted perpetrator is quoted as saying “I tried to be as polite as possible.” Oh, and he always carried a condom, as if that is some kind of evidence he is not a sexual predator.
In fairness to CNN News I found the term accuser used to describe this 16 year old rape victim on NBC News, People.com, NY Daily News, ABC News, The Washington Post and the NY Times. I’m sure there are many more. One would think the NY Times would know better after the reaction they got in 2011 for reporting that an 11 year old victim of gang rape in Texas by 18 men, “they said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.” And then as if the perpetrators were duped by the child they asked “how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?”
After the jury’s verdict Friday, CNN’s Aaron Cooper and Boris Sanchez titled their article “Former prep school student acquitted of felony rape in split verdict.” As a point of fact, he was acquitted of felony rape. He was convicted of three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault, using a computer to lure a minor for sex (a felony), and child endangerment. The only news source I found that used the words “convicted of sex charges” was ABC News. Every other news source I checked used the word “acquitted.”
If this situation is ever going to change, every one of us must speak up when we see reporting of sex crimes that minimizes the severity of the crime or attempts to blame the victim. When the victims are named accusers or descriptive words are used like affair, relationship, fondle, inappropriate touch etc. when referring to rape or child sex abuse, call the authors on it. We must change our system of victim blaming and it is up to you and me to see that happens.
The CNN article as it originally appeared has been edited and a few of the more blatant offensive lines have been removed. In the future I will print the original.
More and more often it seems we are reading news about adult females “having sex” with teenage boys. It is good to finally see some press on this common form of abuse and also the fact it is being reported, but we do have a long way to go. There is a very disturbing aspect of these stories that always ends up in the comments and public discussion and it goes like this: “He’s a boy and he scored with a woman and now you want to call it rape? He got lucky, what’s the big deal?”
Well duh, that’s because legally and morally it is rape. In case anyone missed it, a child cannot “have sex” with an adult in this country, it is defined as child sex abuse among other things. The age of the offender or their gender does not matter, it is a crime.
Read more here.
This article was first published on 1 in 6 and Joyful Heart Foundation websites. Both of these organizations do amazing work to help survivors heal and teach a new normalcy and acceptance for the millions of people who were victimized sexually as children or adults.
It is with the aid of people like Steve LePore, David Lisak, and Peter Pollard of 1in6 and Mariska Hargitay of Joyful Heart Foundation that more people are hearing the message. Please keep sharing these articles and resources so that one day no one will have to suffer from gender violence.
My entire life it seems
My intention has been survival
I used people to survive
The unclaimed pain inside me
I worked the jobs I had
Not as careers
But to survive hunger and homelessness
I numbed my discomfort
With alcohol and drugs
Survival has apparently been
My life’s work
When I began going to a therapist
It began as another
Manifestation of survival
It was to kill the memories I found
I could no longer hide from
A funny thing happened
Once I faced my demons
Survival was no longer important
I had to look for new meaning
I found it buried
Under the pain and suffering
Of other survivors
I found it in the eyes
Of a child
Hurting and not understanding why
I found it in the laughter and joy
Of children who have
Not known the pain
It is my intention
To stand with others
Who want to make a difference
To work for healing
For the injured
And protection of the innocent
Let us stand together
We had friends over for dinner last week and they shared a story that made them slightly uncomfortable and sent me into apoplexy. They get together with their neighbors a few times a year for a potluck dinner and visit. At the latest gathering someone asked the group about their first kiss. This seemed to bring up some fond childhood memories for most of them and made for some shared laughs.
Next they asked about their first sexual experience. Evidently a few stumbled on this one since they were sitting next to their spouses and partners. Even though this is a subject most of us would not readily discuss, it seems to be a new “fun” game for oldsters to play at gatherings.
A little background on why I found this so disturbing. My therapist recounted a story for me in therapy one day. She was speaking at a sexual abuse awareness conference for faith communities and several of the attendees went out for refreshments at the end of the day. The group proceeded to ask a similar question that the neighbors had. “Where was your first sexual experience?” After a few of them had responded my therapist spoke up and told them she had a slightly different perspective. She shared that she had a client (me) whose first sexual experience was in his church, in his minister’s office. Mouths dropped open and people were rather shocked. Blown out of the water more like it.
None of those people had ever pictured anything like that before. But I’ll bet it does not surprise a lot of you, does it? It is real life experience for many of us as survivors that most people cannot even begin to picture. I’m sorry if that is your memory and I’m sorry it’s mine.
Last fall I was a speaker at a conference on sexual violence. My topic was “Why Boys Don’t Tell” about being victims of abuse. Although the talk was quite well received I did one thing that upset more than a few of the audience. In my desire to get people to understand some of the trauma that many of us have lived through I tried a little exercise. I ask everyone to close their eyes and picture the person they admired most as a child. I then asked them to picture that person performing sexual acts on them…… repeatedly…… over time.
I have no doubt that this was more than a little unfair and upset some of them enough to let me know in no uncertain terms on their evaluations. But my hope is that people begin to understand what it is like to live with those memories and that there are an estimated 20 million men and 30 million women who have similar childhood memories. Therapy goes a long way to heal these wounds. So does the understanding of our peers of what it means to live as a survivor and the effort and work it takes to heal from the trauma. I also hope that sharing stories like these helps pull back the blinds a little bit to shine a light on child sex abuse.
So next time you find yourself in a conversation about childhood sexual experiences, maybe it’s time to widen your lens. They are not all fond memories for everyone. And if you are a survivor, sharing your story in a safe environment goes a long way towards healing and understanding. May we each find the grace of sharing our pain in a healthy way and to be compassionate listeners.
Change is in the wind. This month has seen incredibly diverse news on sexual assault. As we grapple with the cultural change necessary to eliminate, or at least curb the rampant gender violence, progress is being made in some areas, side by side with continued ambivalence to the issue.
The first article that popped up was from ESPN News with more on the continuing saga of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State. Prosecutors convinced a judge that ex-President Graham Spanier, ex-Vice President Gary Shultz and ex-Athletic Director Tim Curly should stand trial. The three will be charged with perjury, obstruction, endangering the welfare of children, failure to report suspected abuse and conspiracy.
District Judge William Wenner called it “a tragic day for Penn State University.” From where I sit, it is a grand day for survivors and children. Isn’t it time we hold the secret keepers responsible for what is happening daily, hourly in our communities to children and vulnerable adults? Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
The next news that caught my eye was two different approaches to sexual assault on college campuses. Yale University is reported as being investigated by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. It turns out that at Yale rape is not considered rape, but “nonconsensual sex”. Isn’t that handy—–for the rapists. Out of six cases this year at Yale, one was suspended, one is on probation, and 4 received the standard “written reprimand.” As with child sex abuse it’s a little tough to recover and heal from intense sexual violence when the offender is sitting in class with you, or across the dining table. Whether you call it victim blaming or culpability, this handling of sexual assault sounds awfully similar to a “no-fault” accident.
Now let’s look at what is going on at Duke University. Duke has recently changed its preferred action on a sexual assault conviction to expulsion. “We’re really confident that this new change is a step in the right direction toward both preventing and addressing sexual assault on campus,” Duke’s student government president, Stefani Jones, explained. Duke also has a mandatory reporting policy for university employees if they become aware of a sexual assault. Demonstrating just how under reported sexual assault is, after this policy was instituted reports jumped from 20-30 one year, to over 100 after the new policy went into effect.
And let’s not leave out the US military. The latest statistics indicate that over 26,000 men and women in uniform were victims of sexual assault in 2012. After two high profile news reports in May this year, two Sexual Assault Prevention officers were arrested for—- you guessed it, sexual assault. Just last week the U.S. Army suspended 55 soldiers from their duties as sexual assault counselors, recruiters and drill instructors after a review turned up violations ranging from alcohol-related offenses to sexual assault and child abuse. Not much you say, but it is a step in the right direction.
What does all this add up to for those of us who are concerned about the rape and sexual assault being perpetrated on men, women and our children? Former Penn State President Graham Spanier made this statement to the grand jury when asked why he had not done more when he was given the reports on Jerry Sandusky, “I know better than to jump to conclusions about things like that.”
We are seeing real evidence of the change we seek, in State College, Pa., Duke University, and yes, even the beginnings in the US military. With the efforts of all of us, hopefully in the future Mr. Spanier’s attitude will be a sad piece of history, and girls and boys, men and women will be safe no matter where they go or what they are wearing or drinking. What a wonderful day that will be!
No longer available at 1in6.org or Joyfulheartfoundation.org
We had a local case of a 24 year-old assistant swim coach (who just happened to be the coach’s son) charged with rape and sexual abuse of a 14 year-old High School freshman over a period of months. As is often the case, when it was reported in the media, language was used that left the impression that somehow the victim (excuse me, alleged victim) might have been just as responsible as the offender.
The result is what we seem to see so often, victim blaming. “She wanted it. She came on to him. It’s her fault. She threw herself at him. He’s such a nice guy. Now she’s trying to ruin his life…” I wrote the following article about the damage that can be done with the words we use. They do in fact represent our attitudes.
“…children are never responsible for being abused in any form, no matter what the particular charges or circumstances are. There is always some type of manipulation on the part of offender to gain power and control over the child or adolescent. Our children need our support and protection- without exception.”
Read the full article here.
A little over a year ago I wrote about an experience I had speaking with young male survivors of child sex abuse. It was called Help the Children Heal. Last week I spoke with what one would assume is the opposite end of the spectrum. I was invited to speak with young male offenders, who were mostly minors. They had all been mandated to be in this program by the court. I was told that 3-4 of them were survivors as well. It was made clear to me that all of the boys had a history of some type of abuse from sexual to emotional and/or difficult lives including homelessness and actually being abandoned by their families.
I found myself in the same place as I had when I spoke to the survivors; I was unable to prepare a “talk”. My preparation became one of centering myself to share my story and to be present in the room with the boys. I had faith it would go where it needed.
As I shared my story of struggle and denial and all the distortions that manifested in my life, I could see understanding in the eyes of the boys. I told them about my addictions and how they replaced my relationships with other people. I would choose getting high over being with those I loved. I explained how I thought I was tough, but in reality I was scared. My “toughness” was just a cover for my fears.
My drive to control everything and everybody around me was based on creating a false sense of safety for myself and my family. Some survivors like me, seem to feel if we exert enough control over our lives then nobody can get close enough to hurt us or our loved ones. I want to make it clear, that at least for me, this comes from a place of fear, which only became clear after extensive therapy.
We talked about the lifetime impact of child abuse and factors of why boys in particular tend to not tell. I also shared what got me started on my healing process and the amazing changes in my life since I faced my abuse. That led to how much choice they could have on becoming a different person by addressing all of what had happened in their lives and the consequences of their actions. They could take responsibility and change their lives or they could grow old with regrets, as I have done.
The damage done by abuse is immense, but the incredible thing is that change and recovery are entirely possible. And it is available to each of us whenever we are ready to address our innermost fears. I told them that if I could redeem my life, they could certainly redeem theirs.
One of the boys had just been arrested the day before, but the group leaders felt he would benefit from our visit, so he was brought in, in leg-irons. My emotional reaction to him was overwhelming. He was probably 17 give or take, and at least to my eyes, his soul was bleeding out from where those chains touched his skin. No con here, just a tired and broken child. That is how I saw most of them, broken and hurt children, children broken by society, us, you and me. We failed them. This group of boys “felt” the same to me as the young survivors I had spoken with earlier. I thank God that I had enough loving family around me that I never ended up in jail for some of the things I did, although I certainly could have.
I was moved almost to tears as I said goodbye to them. I had an uncontrollable urge to give the young man in leg-irons a hug, which I knew was not possible. I did the only other thing I could think of; I went up to each of them, took their hand in mine, looked them in the eyes and wished them success on their journey.
As I walked away the tears did come. I had gained so much perspective from the time spent with these boys. It does not justify their behavior, nothing can, but each of those boys was a victim as well; a victim of not enough love and attention that every child needs and deserves.
The Wonderful and Wacky World of Science just got a lot less wonderful and a whole lot more wacky: Pedophilia is a sexual orientation. Really? So according to this article in the LA Times, now pedophilia should stand beside heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual etc. as the way we are born. I am pretty sure I will end up regretting writing this article, but I just have to. I am so consumed by protecting kids, children who are precious and undeveloped humans that I cannot just ignore this.
I have read and been told for years that many child molesters are just wired wrong. Their treatment is, in part, to teach them that it is not okay to rape or molest children (they obviously don’t see it that way). I have also read that more often than not, child molestation or adult rape for that matter is not about sex, but power and control. Are these people born with a gene for those issues?
Now I can see a young adult in their late teens or early twenties having an affectionate attraction to someone in their early or mid teens. Hell, I can even imagine an older adult meeting a teenager and going “wow”. And then their next thought is, I wish I were 20 years younger. But here we are talking about an adult being attracted or in love with a pre-teen. Like we are talking 8-9- 10 years old? And we are going to call that a natural orientation like there is something normal about it?
I’m sorry, but I believe nature is beautiful and it always seeks balance. If one species becomes too plentiful a predator or disease shows up to put things back in balance. Left alone nature will even clean up the pollution caused by humans. My simple mind can see absolutely nothing balanced about an adult being sexually aroused by a child. It is out of order.
The article talks about a man who molested his pre-pubescent stepdaughter and the day before sentencing he landed in the hospital where they discovered a brain tumor. They removed the tumor and no more molesting. A year later he began fixating on children again and they discovered the tumor was growing again. Alright, this I can grasp. There is a serious problem in the brain and you do something you would not normally do. But to use that as proof of this being normal biological development I cannot handle.
I understand there is an organization called the North American Man/Boy Love Association, NAMBLA, who desires laws change to legally allow men to “have sex” with boys. I don’t think so. Can you say rape? In this country our laws state that a child is undeveloped and not responsible for their actions and therefore cannot consent to a legally binding contract, or consent to sex. Nada, no way. Anybody else see self-interest and smell a great big pile of dung?
As much as I cannot imagine it, I want to say that I empathize with individuals, who I’m sure exist, who for one reason or another find themselves turned on by a child. Just don’t put it off as something natural and compare it to healthy sexuality. Each of us is attracted to certain traits or looks in others; male, female, trans, light, dark, big, small whatever. I don’t know if we are born with these predispositions or if we develop them over time. But I do know these are natural differences that at least on the surface are healthy and promote balance.
Everybody should have the opportunity to love and partner with another human being by mutual consent. Just don’t tell me you want to bond with a child and it’s okay, you were born that way. I really don’t want to hear it.
A week ago I posted an article I wrote on standing up for victims and breaking free from the auto response of defending the accused. That part went over okay. The part that people got stuck on and pushed back hard on was this:
“So here is a new reality check: We must find a way to accept that people who do offend are more than the crime. The result becomes one where both the perpetrator and the victim can be held within the community.
Offenders should always be held accountable for their behavior while still being part of the community with safe parameters. The victim can be supported and held in love for the maximum opportunity for a return to health. If we can accomplish this, healing becomes possible for everyone, including the community itself.”
A lot of you obviously don’t like that idea and cannot go there. You don’t have to! As I read your comments and had some new cases come up this week that are close to home, I totally understand the anger at this concept. One of the cases was a minister I knew, that on one hand was an amazing spiritual leader known and loved by thousands. On the other hand, it turns out he was a serial perpetrator of kids. Does one validate the other or conversely invalidate the other? He was in fact both. I think it is important we recognize he was both and then each of us decide how we feel about all he did.
I’m sure lots of people think my abuser was, and is, a great guy who just made a mistake. Not me. He was a great man to many including me at one point in time. For now I don’t much care about the good he did, what impacted my life was his crime and perversion. That’s what’s important to me. I just want to unwind his tentacles so I can reclaim my good memories without his distortions.
But this is not about forgiving or forgetting or whether offenders are thought of as good or bad. I know some feel offenders should be castrated, locked up with people that will abuse them and then shoot them. I must admit I have had those thoughts too, but I do not believe the long term solution to child sex abuse lies in that direction (except in rare cases!). I believe that often the crime is not reported because the victim does not want to “destroy” the life of a family member, or someone close to them. A couple of points I want to clarify here. I think the victim should ALWAYS be consulted and approve sentencing. Next is the victim need never see or speak to the offender again, nor should they be under any expectation to forgive, nor should the community.
What I am saying is for us to heal our communities we need to find space for everyone, even those we dislike, despise, or even just disagree with. There are some we need to keep locked away for everyone’s protection, but once an offender has answered for their crime and paid whatever penalty the law imposed, it is incumbent on society to find a place for them, with safe parameters. You can choose to not break bread with them if you don’t want to. That’s fine.
So I want to make clear that I feel my number one responsibility is to support survivors in their recovery and seeking justice. The close second is to find effective solutions for prevention of child sex abuse so there are less victims to start with. So as you are able, please explore possible solutions with me and keep letting me know how all this makes you feel. I hope you have a good day today and find something to make you laugh.