Editor’s Note: The following contains a frank discussion about rape.
At the age of 24, Brenda Tracey was gang raped by four Oregon State football players. All four confessed to authorities, but none were convicted or held accountable.
Nearly 21 years later, on Oct. 3, Tracey visited Emporia State to talk to students and faculty about her experiences with sexual assault.
“Every time I get on the stage I try so hard not to cry,” said Tracey. “But, I can’t take you back into that apartment and tell you what those men did to me without feeling an intense amount of pain and shame and disgust and embarrassment…And my rape happened 21 years ago.”
According to the National Sexual Assault Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be raped in their lifetime and more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report their assault.
Tracey has been sexually assaulted by six different perpetrators in her 45 years. She is now a motivational speaker, and the founder of a non-profit called “Set the Expectation.” She explained that after experiencing trauma, it doesn’t just go away. It replays in her head every single day, impacting her mental health, her self-esteem and her ability to mother her two boys.
“I mostly remember in that moment feeling like I was trying to say, ‘Stop, what are you doing? Why can’t I move?’ But, I don’t know that I was able to put the words together and say it out loud because I was trying really hard not to pass out,” Tracey said. “I was trying so hard to stay awake and I remember that they were laughing. I remember they were laughing and they high fived each other a few times.”
Tracey recounted the details of waking up naked next to the men on each side and on top of her. She described the few moments she was awake of the six hour assault to the audience, just as she had to for the police officers, the District attorney, the nurses, the reporters, and family members years ago.
She forgave the DA who pushed her case aside, even though they had all four of the men’s confessions. Tracey also forgave the police officers who threw her rape kit away, and the former President of Oregon State who hid the case with the intention of gaining donations for a new stadium.
“I see (Reser) stadium and I am acutely aware that that football stadium was built off my back, and my pain and my children’s pain,” said Tracey. “I know that my children almost ended up without a mother or a father because of football, because of money...People talk about ‘Oh life is priceless.’ Mine’s not, it’s five million dollars.”
Her journey of forgiveness for herself and her attackers, began when she was 40 years old. She woke up and asked herself, “Am I going to want to die every single morning that I wake up?”
“That whole narrative, just from the start, it was like the odds were stacked against her. When you have literally whole organizations trying to hide what happened to her, it’s just gross,” said Kevon Seats, senior crime and delinquency studies major.
She has now visited at least 90 schools to share her story. Her speeches are typically directed towards male athletes because of the strong influence they have on the U.S. She believes those who are not the problem can make the biggest change towards the solution by holding each other accountable and staying true to the pledge they sign for “Set the Expectation.”
Morgan Cape, junior health and human performance major, explained the differences between Tracey and the other sexual assault speakers that have come to ESU.
Cape described the outlook Tracey provided her with as ‘seeing things through new glasses’. She said Tracey not only validated her experiences in ways that no one else has, but made sense of her own thoughts and feelings being a rape survivor herself.
Students are constantly having discussions about sexual assault, but sometimes it’s hard to connect facts to faces. According to Seats, hearing Tracy’s story made significantly more impact than just the facts.
“We always have those talks, but they’re just facts,” Seats said. “There’s not really much testimony and there’s not much passion behind it...It just in it of itself is just terrible to hear. But when you put a story like that behind it just makes it all the more impactful.”