Q&A WITH ACTIVIST BRENDA TRACY

Brenda TracyClayton Koff

Staff Writer

Brenda Tracy, rape survivor and leader of the #SetTheExpectation movement, is taking the country by storm one university at a time.

She travels across the country, telling her story to encourage college students, especially athletes, to “set the expectation” and create an atmosphere where sexual assault will not be tolerated.

“I can rationalize rapists,” Tracy said. “I can’t rationalize good people doing nothing and still having the nerve to call themselves good people. The truth is 98 percent of sexual assaults are committed by men, but only 10 percent of males will commit sexual assault. That means 90 percent of men are good people. I’m not here to tell you the 90 percent are problem. I’m here to tell you they are the solution to hold the 10  percent responsible.”

Tracy visited ISU during Sexual Assault Awareness Week and spoke with The Bengal about her work and goals.

Q: When you are out doing this, what’s your main goal that you want the crowd to feel?

A: So there is two things I try to do. The first thing is, I am going to humanize the issue. A lot of people think of rape as this abstract idea that happens to other people and other schools. So, for me, I tell my story in such graphic detail to connect with you, to humanize the issue. Because if I was up there and said I was sexually assaulted for six hours by four men, I don’t know what that means to you. It can mean a lot of things. The second thing I try to do is to inspire people to be a part of the solution, to inspire you into action, to think about things. If you see a survivor’s story, do you automatically assume she’s lying? Why? I want to inspire people to be active, especially men, to get involved in the conversation.

Q: Do you primarily speak to college students, or are you reaching out to high schools as well?

A: I’m starting to branch out to high school kids as well. I recently started a nonprofit called Set The Expectation where my focus is going to be high school and junior high kids. I think, what would our college campuses look like if every young person coming to college knew what consent was and knew what a healthy relationship was? How would that change the culture of our colleges? It’s a process, but if we can’t talk about normal sex, how are we going to talk about assault?

Q: Why do survivors have such a hard time coming forward? How can we change that?

A: It’s hard for any survivor to come forward. Number one, it’s uncomfortable to talk about the worst thing that has ever happened to you. There’s a lot of blaming that goes on. We blame ourselves. What did I do? What did I say? I was drinking. This is somehow my fault. That’s just something that survivors do themselves, but then society does it too. They say things like, “Oh, she’s lying. What was she drinking? What was she wearing?” We don’t get a lot of justice. There is not a lot of convictions, and there is a lot of backlash. You see how terrible survivors are treated—why would you want to come out yourself? If it’s going to turn your life upside down, you’re going to lose friends, people are going to hate you, there’s a lot of barrier for coming forward with your story. We have to create a culture where it is safer. We have to start telling survivors that we believe them. “You didn’t deserve that. How can we help you?” We just have to change the culture.

Q: Say you are at a party, and you see someone who you think is in danger of being sexually assaulted. What would you say the procedure is to help them?

A: Number one, make sure everyone is safe. If you see someone who is obviously incapacitated, everyone needs to take care of each other, and someone needs to make sure they get home safely. It happens—people get drunk, regardless of if it’s on purpose or not. Make sure they get home safely. If you see a guy is trying to walk off with some girl that’s drunk, and if you don’t feel safe saying something, get someone else. Or tell the guy, “Oh, that’s my girlfriend. I’ll take her home. Thanks, but I’ll take her.” Get them separated. You literally can save a life.

Q:What is consent?

A: An active and enthusiastic yes. Affirmative consent. The absence of a no does not mean yes. A lot of men believe that “she didn’t punch me in the throat, she didn’t scream ‘no,’” so that is consent. It’s not. Or “she was awake when we started, but she passed out during.” Well, that’s rape. In his mind he might have thought he was having consensual sex, but she was drunk. It’s not consensual. 

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