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'The world just started to fall on me': Rape survivor Brenda Tracy adjusts her outreach after lockdown

After sharing traumatic details of her gang rape with thousands of people in-person, Brenda Tracy is using a recording of her story to lessen personal trauma.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Thousands of college athletes around the country know the name Brenda Tracy. The gang rape survivor, who lives outside of Portland, has spent much of the last decade visiting college campuses, sharing her experience in-person.

“Sharing my story and seeing the effect it had on people was really powerful for me,” said Tracy. “It made me feel like what I went through was not in vain.”

In the last seven years, Tracy estimates she’s shared her story publicly more than 200 times. She's spoken at more than a hundred college campuses, businesses and nonprofits. She's worked with 50,000 young men — each time asking them to set the expectation that sexual assault and violence are never OK. And every time she does it, Tracy said she returns to the Corvallis night 23 years ago that will haunt her forever.

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“I was being assaulted by all four men,” Tracy shared with a group of Portland State University students in 2017. “And as they were taking turns, they were high-fiving each other on their performance.”

As first reported by the Oregonian, two of Tracy's alleged rapists were Oregon State University football players. Each received a one-game suspension. It took Tracy years to share her story publicly, but then she just kept going until 2020.

“I think when the pandemic hit and I had to stop and just had to sit with myself, I realized that I wasn't taking care of myself the way that I should,” shared Tracy. “Living this close to my trauma every day, over and over and over ... and not just my trauma but other people's trauma, too. I just felt like the world just started to fall on me.”

This week, Tracy posted on social media that she's paying more attention to her mental health. She's resumed trauma therapy and the way she shares her story is changing. Her nonprofit, Set the Expectation, created an hour-long video of Tracy’s presentation so she'll no longer have to share the most difficult parts of her story in person. Schools and other groups can now purchase the video to share.

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Tracy said she will continue visiting schools on location or remotely for expanded education. Next week she’ll visit Michigan State University for her first post-lockdown speaking engagement and she plans to visit a high school in Dallas later this month. Tracy hopes to reach more high schools as a part of prevention she believes needs more attention.

“We see the grown men that are having issues with domestic violence or sexual violence or whatever and I always tell people, ‘That doesn't just happen,’” said Tracy. “These attitudes and beliefs and behaviors are cultivated and they start at a younger age … we got to intervene sooner.”

Every day, Brenda Tracy finds new strength to keep going and new hope that others will stand with her, wherever they are.

“We all have the ability to help or harm and actively ask, ‘What are we doing every day in our lives?’ Are we helping or harming?” asked Tracy. “Are we part of the problem or the solution?”

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