Eighteen years later, Oregon State rape victim gets closure at Nebraska
Two Oregon State players raped a woman 18 years ago but were hardly disciplined by then-coach Mike Riley, who offered closure to the victim on Wednesday
by Dennis Dodd @dennisdoddcbs Thursday, Jun 23, 2016
LINCOLN, Neb. -- A 42-year-old sexual assault victim stepped to the podium at a Nebraska team meeting Wednesday loaded with bile and hate.
It was absolutely fitting in this unsettling offseason.
"There was a time I hated this man more than my rapist," Brenda Tracy told more than 100 Cornhuskers.
Those players whose jaws immediately dropped turned as one to gauge the reaction of their coach. Tracy was aiming her comments directly at Nebraska's Mike Riley.
"It was palpable," said local crisis counselor Morgan Beal, who escorted Tracy as much for emotional support as in her official capacity.
"I could feel [the emotion]," Tracy said.
The moment had been 18 years in the making, way too long for Tracy, who was raped by two of Riley's Oregon State players in 1998. That gang rape -- by four total individuals -- was never adjudicated.
Tracy never came forward. Charges were dropped. Evidence was destroyed. The statute of limitations expired.
But lately, Tracy has become one of the faces of the fight against the ongoing sexual assault problem in college athletics. Unfortunately, she is not alone.
The stench of the Baylor scandal endures. The inspiring words of Emily Doe at Stanford have resonated. Tennessee has its own sexual assault scandal.
The scene Wednesday was possible because Riley made good on a promise to meet Tracy, whose story became public in late 2014. A job switch from Oregon State to Nebraska delayed that meeting until this week.
Tracy got a tour of the Nebraska facilities and spoke to the team. But the real point of the trip was to ask Riley, face-to-face, the questions that have been embedded in her brain for almost two decades.
Why did Riley give those two players mere one-game suspensions and community service? Why were they allowed to participate on full scholarships while -- to this day -- Tracy, a nurse, is still paying off student loans?
Basically, what did Riley know about Tracy's assault and when did he know it?
She found out within minutes of meeting Riley on Wednesday.
"He stood up and he said, 'Hi Brenda,' and he smiled," Tracy said. "I started crying and he hugged me. He allowed me to cry for a second on his shoulder."
A conversation began. According to Tracy, the coach told her he knew only the players had been arrested and that the charges were dropped. That was it. At the time, Riley had to do something.
It wasn't enough, but he claims he wasn't fully informed.
"I do believe Coach Riley," Tracy concluded. "I don't believe any deception was coming from him."
"Somewhere in your mind you can rationalize what a rapist does," Tracy said. "They destroy lives and they're criminals. But how do you justify a person doing such a bad thing?
"I asked Coach Riley every question I wanted to ask. I just laid it all out on the table. I feel like they got it."
And if Brenda Tracy is satisfied, at least for the moment, we should be, too. This is a woman who was threatened over the phone after saying Baylor football should be shut down.
There is still the 1-in-5 chance any woman who enrolls in college will be a victim of sexual assault. In society as a whole, less than half of victims come forward.
Tracy was one of those. She was ashamed. She didn't know procedure. She started self-blaming, thinking that if she hadn't consumed alcohol that night in 1998 none of it would have happened.
No, rape is still rape. Tracy described her assault, which included a flashlight, in graphic detail to the team.
"'When I talk to you, I need you to be uncomfortable. If that means telling the most graphic part of my story, [that's OK],'" she said.
"For me, this is not relief, it's a little bit of closure," she added. "I was prepared for [Riley] to say, 'I knew.' I was prepared for the worst-case scenario. I was prepared for him to say, 'We had the police report and we gave them a one-game suspension.'
"At the time, he did not know all these extra circumstances were going on at the time."
Riley can move on. Tracy never will. Fortunately, she has turned her hurt into positive energy. An acquaintance passed on the name of an agent who may help her launch a speaking tour.
Oregon State has made good on its mea culpas. The school this week renewed her contract as consultant on campus sexual assault.
"I feel like a ton of bricks have been lifted off my back," Tracy said. "Like, literally, I feel like I might be five sizes smaller in my skin. I feel relieved and changed and I feel grateful. I do imagine what it was going to be like. I only imagined the fear part of it."
Then, Tracy teared up. She has finally seen what accountability looks like. And now she knows what closure feels like.