Yesterday, the Oregonian published a follow-up piece on Brenda Tracy’s tragic story. As previously discussed here on our blog, Ms. Tracy was gang raped by several Oregon State University (OSU) football players in 1998. This most recent article – penned by journalist John Canzano – details the university’s response following Ms. Tracy’s report of her assault.
Canzano’s investigation reveals that after Ms. Tracy’s report (to both OSU officials and state police), the school never responded to the information she provided, instead choosing to hastily cover up the actions of its football players in order to protect its own image. The school “punished” the students involved in the violent sexual assault with “25 hours of community service.” This was so despite the fact that the school had access to the 38-page police report in which the men who raped Ms. Tracy admitted to the sexual assault.
In response to the fact that the actions took place off-campus, O’Donnell Clark and Crew LLP partner Steve Crew stated that shouldn’t matter: “[the assault] involved students there. It involved football players there. Whether or not it’s [OSU’s] business doesn’t come back to whether it was off campus or on campus. It didn’t matter then. It doesn’t matter now.”
Furthermore, despite strong evidence of the assault, the District Attorney’s office chose not to press charges against the four men involved, citing Ms. Tracy’s lack of participation in the criminal proceeding. Notably, one representative from D.A.’s office told Canzano that they “could get a conviction against some, if not all, of the men even without Tracy’s cooperation.” According to Ms. Tracy, “[n]obody ever told [her that she] had a strong case.”
In fact, the evidence was so strong that, according to OC&C attorney Crew, “[Ms. Tracy’s] case could be tried right now if not for a six-year statute of limitations.”
In Oregon, the statute of limitations to criminally prosecute a sexual assault case is six years. Oregon’s statute of limitations in this regard is one of the strictest in the country. However, Ms. Tracy did not even receive the advantage of this meager reprieve: the evidence in her case was destroyed years before the criminal statute of limitations expired.
Following the initial publication of Ms. Tracy’s story, Ms. Tracy met with OSU officials in December to discuss the University’s response. While school officials were effusive in their apologies, “ultimately, OSU’s ‘exhaustive’ investigation resulted in a polite gesture laced with excuses about fading memories, poor record-keeping and an inability to turn back time.”
Sexual violence committed by and/or against students should not be downplayed in order to protect a school’s reputation: it should be addressed in order to protect victims. Failure to do so not only re-victimizes the survivor, but also results in making the epidemic of sexual abuse within universities one of pandemic proportions.
We here at O’Donnell Clark and Crew hope to help Ms. Tracy – and others – in effecting change to Oregon policy and legislation surrounding sexual assault and statutes of limitation. Although legislative action may help prevent what happened to Ms. Tracy from happening to others, it does not negate Ms. Tracy’s pain, nor does it excuse the school’s reactions from the time of the assault up through the present. That is why we fight to help people like Ms. Tracy achieve some measure of peace, and hold universities and institutions accountable for their failures.
Our law firm represents victims of sexual assault. If you or someone you know would like to speak with us confidentially, please call us toll-free at 1-888-407-0224 or email us at [email protected].