Years before Brenda Tracy’s trip to Corvallis, where she told police she was brutally gang-raped by four men, there was a flannel nightgown.
She remembers it had frills on the sleeves and buttons at the neck, like something from “Little House on the Prairie.” She was wearing it, she says, the first time she was raped — at age 9.
Many details from that night are hazy, but she can picture the nightgown — and her terror, as a young man held it over her head — as plain as day.
Tracy didn’t tell her parents for about four years, in 1986. Salem police filed a report but never contacted the alleged attacker. That’s because the statute of limitations in rape cases — three years at the time — had expired.
Tracy, now 41, says that was the first time Oregon law failed her. The second was about 12 years later, after she reported that she was raped by four football players, two of whom played for Oregon State University.
Tracy shared that painful story with The Oregonian/OregonLive’s John Canzano last fall, finally emerging from years of silence and shame. Still, she wasn’t emotionally ready to talk about earlier incidents — the rape at 9 and sexual abuse at age 5. She’s still not comfortable talking about the first incident.
She decided to talk publicly about the childhood rape, however, after spending weeks lobbying state legislators to extend Oregon’s statute of limitations in rape cases to at least 20 years. Lawmakers knew about the Corvallis incident, but she decided the earlier story, too, needed to be part of the discussion.
“Five men have raped me in my lifetime, and no one has ever been held accountable,” Tracy said in an interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive. “The only person that has ever suffered for their crimes is me.”
• • •
Like many who experience trauma, Tracy has a hard time remembering details. But she and her parents pieced together this account for police:
She was raped sometime between July 1982 and May 1983. Two things suggest it probably happened in October 1982: Her flannel nightgown indicates it wasn’t warm out, and she has a faint memory of the movie “Halloween” playing on TV.
Tracy’s parents rarely left her with a sitter, but when they did, a teenage girl would come over. That night, the sitter invited over an acquaintance who was a few years older.
Brenda brushed her teeth and went to bed.
“At some point in the night, I woke up, and when I woke up, he was standing right there,” she said.
In one menacing motion, Tracy said, he tore the covers off her bed, then pulled the flannel gown up over her head.
“It wouldn’t come off, and my arms were pinned up around my head inside my nightgown,” she said, weeping as she recounted what happened. “He held the top of my nightgown over my head so I couldn’t move, and then tore off my underwear, and I just remember feeling a lot of pain.”
He left without saying a word.
Brenda pulled her gown down and fell into a comatose sleep.
The man never came over again, but Brenda saw him around the neighborhood a couple of times.
“I knew when he looked at me I should not say anything,” she said. “I just felt this overwhelming sense that if I say anything I’m going to get hurt, because he already hurt me.”
• • •
The next few years were hard for Tracy. She convinced herself it wasn’t real — just a bad dream that happened to a different girl.
“It’s like reading a book,” she said. “It’s not you, it’s someone else, and that’s what I decided.”
But the damage manifested anyway. She developed a hearing problem, though multiple specialists concluded there was nothing physically wrong.
She finally acknowledged the attack in June 1986, after the family moved to a new Salem neighborhood. Tracy, then 12, saw a character on TV wearing a long flannel nightgown.
The memory came surging back.
Tracy’s mother, Deanna Walters, came home to find her crying alongside a neighbor girl. Brenda told her everything.
“Inside, I believe I was very angry,” Walters said. “I was not angry at Brenda at all. I was angry that it happened.”
She called the police.
“I reported it,” Walters said, “because I figured they would find this young man and arrest this young man.”
She figured wrong. Salem police closed the investigation in a three-page report dated July 11, 1986. The last paragraph reads: “This incident occurred beyond the three-year statute of limitation. No prosecution is possible at this time. Suspect will not be contacted in this matter.”
A detective told Walters in a phone call.
She was stunned.
“I was very angry because it was like — somebody raped my daughter and nothing happened?” she said. “I couldn’t protect my daughter, and there’s nothing legally I could do about it.”
The detective who wrote the report has since retired, but Salem Police Department spokesman Lt. Dave Okada said officers, out of concern for the victim’s safety, sometimes won’t contact those accused of crimes if the statute of limitations has passed.
“Today, those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and welfare of the victim is a part,” Okada said. Sometimes “it’s best not to contact the suspect, based on the suspect trying to recontact the victim.”
The man named in the police report declined requests for a phone interview. In a Facebook message, he said he does not recall ever meeting Brenda and insisted he never assaulted anyone.
“I have never assaulted anyone in my life,” he wrote. “I do not know Brenda and I did not assault her … this is something I would not forget. I am sorry for her, but I am done answering questions because I am not guilty.”
The Oregonian/OregonLive is not naming the man because he was never charged.
Rape survivors who support eliminating the statute of limitations say delays in reporting rape — especially common for young victims — shouldn’t be an excuse for police not to investigate.
“We know from brain science that Brenda’s reaction, the delay of reporting is A) common, and B) doesn’t diminish its credibility,” said Meg Garvin, executive director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute at Lewis & Clark College. “We need corroborating evidence in almost every sexual assault case, so good investigators and good prosecutors will be looking for that, if I report tomorrow or report it in three years.”
Oregon law now allows prosecutors to file charges in rape cases involving a minor as long as they do so before the victim turns 30.
Last week, the Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk that would extend the time limit in other cases to 12 years. Tracy and other advocates are still pushing lawmakers to extend the limit to 20 years or eliminate it altogether. Legislators are forming a work group to explore more changes in the 2016 session.
Tracy was devastated when her mother told her the man wouldn’t be prosecuted.
“I felt like, even at 12, that my life is going to change,” Tracy said. “I just remember feeling like nothing is going to be done, and that’s it? We all just moved on and never talked about it.”
Tracy started acting out — hanging with the wrong crowd, skipping school and defying her parents. By September 1986, things had gotten so bad that they sent her to live with her father in Alaska.
They asked her to come to the grocery store but instead dropped her at the airport with a bag of belongings they had packed secretly. She didn’t return to Oregon until she was 17.
Seven years later, after the Corvallis attack, she knew exactly what to do: Survive by pretending you’re someone else, then report it right away.
It still didn’t work. Tracy, faltering under pressure, didn’t pursue charges, and physical evidence was destroyed. Once the six-year statute of limitations expired, Tracy lost the chance to change her mind. The men walked.
“I have been failed multiple times by this law,” she said. “It seems totally and completely unfair that this is my history.”
Full article: http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/06/brenda_tracy_reveals_first_rap.html