Yesterday, Attorneys Steve Crew and Jacqueline Swanson were proud to sit next to our client Brenda Tracy and testify before the Oregon House Committee for the Judiciary on behalf of Oregon House Bill 2317 (or HB2317) which would extend the statutes of limitations for prosecuting rape in the state of Oregon from 6 years to either 12 years, 20 years, or to get rid of the limitation altogether.
Ms. Tracy, who has become a high-profile activist on behalf of sexual assault survivors’ rights, was herself a victim of a gang rape. According to an article by the Oregonian‘s Ian Kullgren, “Tracy, in her testimony, described the terror she felt in the early morning hours of June 24, 1998, when four football players — including two on the Oregon State University team — stood around cheering as they took turns raping her. Later, she learned none would be prosecuted.
‘I truly felt like a piece of garbage,’ said Tracy, … ‘This event could have killed me,’ she said, fighting back tears. ‘And for some victims, it does.'”
In addition to the trauma of the rape itself, the aftermath was horrifying. Tracy described being traumatized by the experience of reporting the assault, the invasive rape kit examination, an apathetic police investigation, a university inquest by Oregon State University officials who seemed more inclined to sweep the abuse under the rug, and threats made against her by friends and fans of the football players. All of these factors combined to prevent Ms. Tracy from immediately moving forward with criminal charges.
Unbeknownst to Ms. Tracy, two years later — and four years before the statute of limitations would run –law enforcement destroyed her rape kit evidence. This destruction occurred without any notice to Tracy. And it meant that, although Tracy did not know it, she would never be able to pursue criminal charges again.
Despite the fact that those statutes prohibit Brenda from obtaining criminal justice against her attackers today, she is empowered to fight for her rights and for the rights of fellow survivors of sexual assault in trying to change those laws and give those survivors more avenues for justice. That is why she reached out to our team. Our law firm represents survivors of sexual abuse in courtrooms all across the state of Oregon and throughout the United States, and Brenda’s case gave us an opportunity to testify for those survivors on a legislative level.
HB 2317 is one of several bills that we are working to advance to help improve access to justice for victims of sex crimes. Another is Oregon Senate Bill 563, which would require all law enforcement agencies in Oregon to count and report all of their untested rape kits to the Attorney General, thereby forcing them to be transparent
We have seen through experience that many victims of sexual abuse experience fear, shame and other trauma responses that make it difficult to report their assault immediately after that abuse take place. By changing the statutes of limitations (or by eliminating them altogether), victims of sexual assault can have a better chance of obtaining justice when they are finally able to speak out.
During their testimony, Steve Crew and Jacqueline Swanson supported Ms. Tracy’s emotional narrative with professional legal insight on the necessity of expanding the statutes in Oregon, one of the few states left with such restrictive criminal prosecutorial limitations.
After hearing Crew, Swanson and Tracy’s testimony, the committee moved for another public hearing this week before deciding whether to send it to the House.
If you are interested in learning more about our legislative advocacy and proposed reform in support of survivors of sexual abuse for both HB 2317 and SB 563, please call us toll-free at 1-888-407-0224 or use our confidential online form.