In a recent Oregonian article by John Canzano, a woman named Brenda Tracy recounted the sexual torture she endured nearly 16 years ago at the hands of four men, two of whom were Oregon State University football players at the time.
In the article, Ms. Tracy describes that terrible night in 1998, when the four men — Calvin Carlyle and Jason Dandridge (both players for Oregon State University) as well as Michael Ainsworth and Nakia “Ken” Ware — took turns raping, sodomizing, and forcing her to perform oral sex, all the while cheering each other on.
Ms. Tracy immediately reported the assault to the police and underwent an extensive rape kit examination at Salem Hospital.
The four men were arrested and questioned by police, and their separate testimonies evidenced the credibility of the charges reported by Ms. Tracy. Despite this, Ms. Tracey did not seek charges against the four men.
Many may be inclined to think that Ms. Tracy’s decision to not press charges was foolish. However, her decision is not at all uncommon among survivors of sexual violence, and while the reasons behind such a decision are varied, none are foolish.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), “[a] victim may choose not to immediately press charges following a report to police for a number of reasons, including emotional trauma.” Indeed, this may well have been the case for Ms. Tracy, who characterized the emotional pain she was experiencing at the time by stating that she felt she “was already dead.”
Ms. Tracy’s fears were further compounded when Oregon State University and Carlyle and Dandridge’s football coach, Mike Riley, chose to “punish” both men by merely suspending them from participating in one football game. Further, despite the police investigation that corroborated Ms. Tracy’s report of the gang rape, Coach Riley wrote off the brutal assault as simply a “bad choice” on the part of the accused rapists.
That statement “re-victimized” Ms. Tracy and brought her to the brink of life and death. In the article, Ms. Tracy told Mr. Canzano: “What happened to me was not my choice. What they did to me was not my choice. They violated me. I was garbage to them. I’d made my mind up after talking to police that I was going to do the rape examination, [and] then I was going to go kill myself. I was going to commit suicide.”
Thankfully, Ms. Tracy did not commit suicide. The nurse who performed the rape examination helped to change Ms. Tracy’s life for the better, and inspired her to become a nurse as well. However, all too often these kinds of traumatic events – coupled with the fear and isolation experienced by many victims in the aftermath of the assault – prove to be too much for abuse survivors to bear.
When Mr. Canzano asked Ms. Tracy about her decision not to press charges, she said, “I wish I’d have pressed charges.” Ms. Tracy’s feelings are certainly valid, but her feelings at the time of the assault were valid, as well.
The decision to report to police is a difficult and highly personal choice for many survivors. Only Ms. Tracy knows the reasons behind her decision not to report at the time, but it would not be surprising if those reasons included the fear of reprisal by those four strong men, or fear of disbelief and rejection by her peers – fears which were confirmed by the awful and insensitive reactions received from the school and the coach.
Although reporting to the police may appear to be an objectively good decision, it might not be a subjectively good decision for an individual survivor. This does not make their experience any less valid, nor should it impact the fact that victims always deserve to be believed, supported, and respected.
We admire Ms. Tracy, and others like her, for her courage to speak out about the abuse she endured. But we also recognize that for some victims, reporting to police may not be the best or only option. The survivor is the only person who can decide what route is right for them.
Justice may be achieved through many different means, and while criminal charges are certainly one way to seek relief, it is not the exclusive means of doing so. Here at O’Donnell Clark and Crew, we advocate for all sexual abuse survivors, and support them on their path to healing, recovery, and justice – whatever that path that may be.
If you have been abused and would like to speak with us on a confidential basis, please call us toll-free at 1-888-407-0224 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see OSU President Edward Ray’s official apology to Ms. Tracy, click here.