DALLAS – Brenda Tracy has stood before and told her story to the football teams at Nebraska, Oklahoma and Baylor.
“They squirm in their seats or they cover their faces and don’t even look at me,” said Tracy, who told her story at Auburn this week. “I tell them every gross detail. It’s disgusting and sometimes I cry because it’s hard for me and embarrassing for me. I need them to be uncomfortable because I need them to understand it’s happening to real people.
“When I tell them really graphic details … R-rated, X-rated, it makes them uncomfortable.”
If Tracy described the 1998 incident that changed her life as a “sexual assault,” it becomes just another term that we’ve become too familiar with, much like “mass shooting” or “terrorist threat.”
So she tells the story that she knows in graphic details that are with her every day of her life. At age 24, she went with a female friend to an apartment where she felt safe. She believes she was drugged and for the next six hours “allegedly” gang-raped by four men, two from the Oregon State team.
“The attack lasted more than six hours and as I went in and out of consciousness the things that they did to me are now burned into my memory,” she later wrote.
“Like a piece of cattle I was branded, never to forget eight hands on me, inside me, their laughs as they high-fived each other in a congratulatory manner as they each took turns raping me … Never to forget the next morning when I awoke to the smell of dried vomit in my hair, the stickiness of a condom stuck to my stomach, the food crumbs that left indentations on my skin as I lay face down on the apartment floor like a piece of garbage that someone forgot to pick up.”
If that shocks your sensibilities, it should. Consider there are thousands of more words than the 121 in that paragraph, words that describe a six-hour nightmare and the 18 years since then.
“Allegedly” has to be used when describing that “sexual assault,” because the four perpetrators never went to trial. Tracy dropped the case because of the backlash against her in a small college town where football players are protected and deified.
“People who perpetrate these crimes just get this pass and they go on with their lives,” she said. “The victims are left behind suffering, for a lifetime. My perpetrators went on with their lives. I wanted to kill myself every day for 16 years.
“I believe that sexual assault is probably the only crime where the victim becomes a perpetrator also. If I was robbed on the street, I wouldn’t be blamed for being outside and having a wallet on me.”
After telling her story to The Oregonian two years ago, Tracy has been seeking her own form of justice by campaigning and speaking. She has helped pass five new laws in the state of Oregon related to sexual assault issues.
Those and others like her face a battle where progress comes grudgingly and with frustrations. If you don’t understand that, we refer to the last few days and the Republican nominee for President of the United States.
During the Big 12 Forum “Campus Violence –Finding Solutions” last month, commissioner Bob Bowlsby mentioned the “It’s On Us” campaign initiated by President Obama. Bowlsby was at the White House for the initiative’s debut two years ago. The Big 12 produced a video about the campaign but since the conference has focused on spotlighting student-athletes in its “Champions For Life” campaign. “It’s On Us”is as relevant as “Just Say No.”
Oklahoma’s administration did not respond to a report on sexual misconduct on campus that said 19 percent of the 823 students surveyed had been sexually assaulted. President David Boren said he had never received the report but that he wasn’t surprised when he heard the findings.
“We try to really train students about (sexual violence), and you try to also say, ‘Don’t get yourself in a situation where you’re incapable of saying no,’” Boren said. “Can we eradicate the problem? Not any more than we can eradicate human nature.”
Those are the hand-wringing, whatever-shall-we-do comments from presidents’ offices that signal the disconnect between the problem and the solution. Baylor has attempted to brush off some of the reports of sexual assaults involving its female students by saying that the incidents occurred off campus.
Tracy experienced the lack of compassion and understanding firsthand when she spoke to the Baylor team at the invitation of coach Jim Grobe. She had dinner with Grobe the night before and believed her message had an impact with the football program that has been embroiled in the school’s Title IX sexual assault scandal.
But after she talked with the team, a Baylor assistant coach pulled Tracy into his office and proceeded to berate her because — in his mind — the football team and coaching staff were being scapegoated.
Tracy identified the coach by looking at pictures on the school’s web site. She has reported the incident to Baylor authorities. I asked Tracy if she would tell me who the coach was. She declined. Let the record show she has more integrity than a number of folks being employed by Baylor.
Art Briles coaching staff stayed at Baylor after Briles was fired. The Bears are 5-0 and ranked No. 11. Keeping the staff intact was seen as giving this season’s team a chance to win big.
Now those coaches, behind the anonymity of a keyboard and social media, tweeted a Briles phrase #TruthDontLie in response to conflicting reports over a junior-college recruit dismissed last July.
A number of Baylor fans believe that the Title IX/sexual assault scandal is a conspiracy to wreck the school’s football program. A group called Baylor Revolution is selling “Bring Back CAB” T-shirts (“CAB” stands for Coach Art Briles) and is urging a blackout for the Nov. 5 home game with TCU.
The message that is being sent by Baylor and other institutions is that the response to sexual assault is either “check the box; there, we’ve paid lip service” or “as long as it doesn’t hurt the football team.”
Those female Baylor students who claim they were raped are being forgotten, marginalized and treated as inconvenient pests.
“It’s easy to lose sight of the victims, that’s what we need to focus on and talk about, the true victims of these crimes,” Tracy said.
“What is Baylor doing to help these victims? Are they offering counseling services, advocates? How are we healing these women? Or are we saying, ‘Just leave school until you feel better and then come back.’
“The only thing that causes rape is a rapist. There is nothing else that causes rape. It’s not alcohol. It’s not hormones. It’s not kids being away from school. It’s not what a woman wears. A rapist makes a decision to violate someone else’s body without their consent. For me, that’s not complicated.”