Friday, April 14, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 45: Brenda Tracy

In my second-to-last Lenten post, I have a special story to share with you. The other evening I attended a women's activist meeting, where we were led to think about a critical story in our lives, how it contributed to our passion, and where it is leading us to use our energies now.

As I revealed to readers back in October, I was sexually assaulted as an adolescent, and I still bear the scars. I shared this information in my small group on Monday night, along with the epiphany that as a result, throughout my life I've been drawn to the company of women...and this assault was just one of my many life experiences (including childhood birth defects and multiple surgeries, bullying in junior high, travel abroad, and my recent health issues) that contribute to the theme in my life:
In fact, I think this would make a fine tattoo for my 55th birthday, don't you agree?

A woman in my small group suggested that perhaps my calling to activism should be connected to women, and in in fact it is already headed that way. And another woman in the group told me about Brenda Tracy.

In 1998, single mom Brenda Tracy was drugged and gang raped by four men, two of which played on the Oregon State University football team.* She reported the attack, but the district attorney never prosecuted the case. She endured death threats and backlash from a community that should have helped her. And the OSU football coach at the time, Mike Riley, defended his players in a newspaper, "These are really good guys who made a bad choice." As Tracy recalls, it felt like a branding iron searing through her flesh to her soul, a scar she would carry forever. Read her story here in the Oregonian.

Even though all of the accused admitted to some part in the gang rape, Tracy did not end up pressing charges...because she'd been victimized before, her boyfriend played on the OSU team, and she felt ashamed (rape culture). After the rape, she strongly considered suicide until the ER nurse, Jenenne Aguilar, who took care of her after the rape, inspired her to pursue a career in nursing. That fall, instead of killing herself, she entered nursing school and eventually also got her MBA.

Over the years she came to hate Mike Riley more than her rapist because she felt betrayed. In 2014, Tracy publicly came forward sharing her story, and releasing the shame she'd felt inside this whole time. Since then, Tracy has bravely met with Riley (who publicly apologized to her), spoke to his team in Nebraska, and built a strong relationship with him. (He recently nominated her for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.) Just this week Tracy returned to Nebraska and led an End Rape on Campus march.

When I began researching Tracy's case, I found this video interview with Tracy and her college athlete son, Darius Adams:

And then I found this letter by Darius, who is working to prevent NCAA from recruiting and allowing sexual offenders to play in college sports, and that's what made me cry. When he was headed down a troubled path at age 17 (in 2010), his mom shared the story of her rape with him for the first time, and it inspired him to turn his life around.

For so long, I too kept my story quiet and hidden, except from close friends and family. But when I decided to go public in my blog last October (inspired by Michelle Obama's speech after the Orange Monstrosity's sexual harassment history surfaced), I felt I needed to share my story with my two oldest sons in case they read it on my blog. With my voice shaking, I told them what happened to me and emphasized the importance of consent in their own relationships with women.

No woman should have to endure such humiliation and violence, much less have to tell her children about it. I'm grateful for people like Brenda Tracy and her son Darius for speaking out so vocally about what happened and working to mitigate rape culture in sports, college environments, and elsewhere. Now if we could just get it out of the White House!

Please sign their petition to the NCAA, asking to create a policy that bans violent athletes.

Read all my Lenten challenge posts here

*In 2014, OSU re-investigated the case, publicly apologized to Tracy, and began an extensive effort to expand and improve its programs to prevent sexual violence and serve survivors of sexual assault. OSU’s ambitious initiative was recently recognized by national media as one of the most progressive in the nation. The university extended the OSU Student Conduct Code to behavior that occurs off-campus. It joined the national “It’s On US” campaign, and launched the Alcohol, Drug and Violence Prevention Center. OSU now requires online courses to combat alcohol abuse and sexual assault, requires all incoming students to take a sexual violence prevention course, and has opened the OSU Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center. Tracy spoke at the opening of that center, which will provide confidential services for sexual assault survivors, help them navigate campus and community programs, and provide access as needed to sexual assault nurses.


  1. You inspire with your bravery in sharing your own story. I am glad things are changing on college campuses.

  2. Thank you for this informative call to action and for sharing your story, Marie. We have made so much progress on this front, yet our work has only just begun. May we all provide safe spaces for rape victims to share their stories.