WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch today honored Oregonian Brenda Tracy, a survivor of a sexual assault and one of 10 individuals or groups to receive a National Crime Victims’ Service Award.
The ceremony was hosted at the National Archives by the Office for Victims of Crime, to recognize individuals and organizations who are leading efforts to advance victim services and rights.
This national honor is a culmination of a trauma for Tracy that began almost 18 years ago in Corvallis, Oregon.
In June, 1998, Tracy reported to police that she was gang raped by two players on the Oregon State University football team, and two other men not enrolled at the university. However, the district attorney never prosecuted the case, advised Tracy of her victim’s rights, or informed her when officials destroyed evidence of the case prior to the statute of limitations, federal officials said in a statement Tuesday.
After news media reports in 2014 of the incident, OSU officials re-investigated the case, publicly apologized to Tracy, and began an extensive effort to expand and improve the university’s programs to prevent sexual violence and serve survivors of sexual assault. OSU’s ambitious initiative was recently recognized by national media as one of the most progressive in the nation.
In the past two years, Tracy has also become a public advocate who worked for legislative changes to expand victims’ rights, extend the Oregon statute of limitations to prosecute rapists, and create other laws that provide protection and resources for campus sexual assault victims, federal officials said. During that time, OSU has hired her as a part-time consultant for numerous outreach efforts.
“Her story and her work are changing the landscape of sexual assault prevention and response in Oregon and nationally,” federal officials wrote in a citation. “Despite the tragedy and injustice of her experience, she dedicates her life to advocating for victims and survivors.”
Tracy said she was grateful for the recognition and that she will “continue for the rest of my life” her efforts to prevent sexual violence.
“This award feels amazing,” Tracy said. “I have worked very hard over the past year and a half, and this award means that people are listening.
“I am so proud of Oregon and the steps we have taken. I cannot do this alone and I needed everyone around me to help. We are a good example for the rest of the nation to take a lead from and follow.”
OSU President Edward J. Ray said that “this is a very well deserved recognition.”
“Brenda has turned her personal tragedy into leadership and a call for action,” Ray said.
“I have been personally honored to come to know Brenda over the past few years. She is a woman of courage, honor and truly extraordinary resilience. She is a tireless state and national leader of resolve and action who champions an end to sexual violence in our society, and support for the survivors of assault.
In the past two years, OSU has become a national leader working to address this issue.
The university extended the OSU Student Conduct Code to behavior that occurs off-campus. It joined the national “It’s On US” campaign, and launched the Alcohol, Drug and Violence Prevention Center. OSU now requires online courses to combat alcohol abuse and sexual assault, requires all incoming students to take a sexual violence prevention course, and has opened the OSU Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center.
Tracy spoke at the opening of that center, which will provide confidential services for sexual assault survivors, help them navigate campus and community programs, and provide access as needed to sexual assault nurses.
Last year, the university instituted a nationally-acclaimed policy to prohibit the admission of any student who is not able to re-enroll, for student conduct reasons, at any educational institution they attended in the past seven years.
Tracy noted that the changes that have taken place, in Oregon and at OSU in the past two years, have made a large personal impact.
“They could not have come in a better way for me,” she said. “There is a depth of healing that has occurred within me that is profound.”