What others say: Much to learn from 1998 rape case

  • By Carvallis Gazette-Times editorial
  • Wednesday, December 3, 2014 4:09pm
  • Opinion

Assuming she’s willing to participate, and it sounds as if she is, Brenda Tracy could become a memorable teacher for students — not to mention staff members and administrators — at Oregon State University.

Tracy is the subject of a riveting three-part series by Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano. Here’s the gist of the story:

In June 1998, Tracy, then a 24-year-old waitress, reported to police that she had been sexually assaulted by four men. Two of her alleged assailants were OSU football players. Police asked Tracy to get a rape examination, and she did so.

Then prosecutors didn’t press charges because Tracy decided not to participate in the case, a decision she said she now regrets.

Tracy came forward to Canzano in large part because she was still haunted by the words of Mike Riley, then wrapping up his first stint as coach of the Oregon State football coach. At the time, Riley said he thought the two players had made a “bad choice.”

Riley, now in the midst of his second term as the Beavers coach (after the 1999 season, he left the Beavers for a stint with the San Diego Chargers), today regrets that choice of words. He has extended an invitation to Tracy to come and speak to his football team. In a comment he posted on The Oregonian’s website, Riley wrote: “Her experiences would be a powerful message and one I know our whole team would take to heart.”

That’s undoubtedly true. It’s a message OSU officials should extend well beyond the football team.

As Canzano’s series has rolled out, OSU officials have said all the right things. OSU President Ed Ray apologized to Tracy in a statement, and ordered a review of the university’s response in 1998 — and, although it will be a while until we see the results of that review, it would appear a safe bet that the university could have done a better job with this case back then.

Ray also has asked his staff to review the police reports in the case to see if there are additional steps the university could take, although it’s not clear what those might be, considering that the statute of limitations for rape is six years, and the Corvallis Police Department has disposed of the evidence in the case, as per its policy.

Nevertheless, it’s gratifying to see OSU officials reviewing what happened 16 years ago — and how the case could have been better handled. It’s also fair to note that OSU has a different structure in place these days to deal with this sort of issue and has rolled out a new program aimed at preventing sexual assaults.

In that regard, Tracy’s willingness to speak out about her experiences could provide a galvanizing real-life example of how these “bad choices” leave real lives shattered. Tracy, it would appear, finally has managed to put together the pieces of her life, in part by going public with her story.

The next step for OSU officials is simple, yet potentially profound: It should extend the widest possible welcome to Tracy — in a way it did not do 16 years ago.

— Corvallis Gazette-Times,

Nov. 24