She accused a NASCAR champion of domestic violence and it ruined her life

“It is not worth it at all. I should have stayed quiet.”

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Adam Peck
CREDIT: ThinkProgress/Adam Peck

Patricia Driscoll doesn’t scare easily. But as she stood in front of a conference hall of suits at a university in Vermont, talking about her work as the CEO of a defense contracting company, she couldn’t shake a feeling of dread every time an audience member checked their phone. What if they were googling her? And what if, during the Q&A portion of the program, they asked her about what they found on the first page of search results?

It’s moments like this when the 39-year-old mother regrets walking into the Dover Police Department two and a half years ago to file a domestic violence report against her ex-boyfriend, NASCAR star Kurt Busch.

When you used to look up Driscoll’s name, you’d likely find headlines about her work as the President of the Armed Forces Foundation, photos of her pre-race kisses with Busch, clips of her appearances on Fox News as a defense expert, and articles in which she discusses how to help veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.

But that was before Busch allegedly strangled her and slammed her head against the wall of his trailer three times; before a simple hearing over a protective order turned into a media circus and she was publicly accused of being a trained assassin for the CIA; before the non-stop online harassment and death threats; before ESPN’s multi-part investigation into her role at the AFF and her subsequent resignation; before she was federally indicted on eight counts of fraud and tax evasion. You know. Before.

Today, her search results on Google paint a scandal-plagued picture that follows her wherever she goes.

The past two and a half years blur together in Driscoll’s mind; it’s been a nonstop loop of tests and disappointments, heartache and turbulence. She’s watched the foundation she poured her heart into shut its doors. She’s had people she considered loyal friends betray her. She’s been publicly humiliated. She’s had her life threatened. She’s had to explain it all, in some form or fashion, to her 12-year-old son.

Kurt Busch, his lawyer, and his public relations representative did not respond to repeated requests for comment about Driscoll’s allegations or the ensuing smear campaign against her in the media. Busch has denied the allegations of assault before, both in court and to the media.

Last summer, Driscoll sat in a quiet corner of a bustling hotel lobby just blocks from the White House and spoke openly about her experience as a high-profile victim of violence against women.

“I’m telling you, it’s better to take the beating that day and keep your mouth shut than it is for anything that has happened after,” Driscoll said.

“It is not worth it at all. I should have stayed quiet.”

D“That’s a part in our relationship that created a smile on both our faces,” Busch would later recall in court.

There was instantly a spark between them. Busch, a veteran NASCAR driver who won the championship in 2004, was known as “The Outlaw” because of his hot temper and aggressive racing style. But Driscoll saw another side of him. Busch seemed completely devoted to helping the troops and assisting with her foundation; he was incredibly loving and patient with her son, Houston; and he went out of his way to woo her with grand gestures — early in their relationship, when she was traveling for Thanksgiving, he bought a plane ticket just so he could escort her to the gate to say goodbye.

She fell for Busch so hard and so fast that it was easy to push aside things that she can now recognize as warning signs — the fact that he was still technically married when they started dating, his frequent heavy drinking, and the whispers she heard throughout the garage about the violent fights he’d had with his ex.

“You always think it couldn’t happen to you, this is not the guy I see,” she said. “When you fall in love with somebody you want to ignore all the bad things about him. I fell hard.”

Busch’s temper frequently got him in trouble on the track. In 2012, he was named the most hated NASCAR driver in America by Forbes, and his reputation was well-earned. In September of 2011, Busch got into a couple of on-track dust-ups with NASCAR fan favorite Jimmie Johnson. When a reporter asked Busch about the altercation on pit road, Busch shouted expletives at him and had to be physically restrained by his crew members. Two months later, Busch was caught on camera screaming profanities at another reporter, Jerry Punch, after the season-ending race at Homestead. He was fined $50,000 by NASCAR and soon parted ways with his team, Penske Racing. The next May, Busch ran into fellow NASCAR driver Ryan Newman on pit road; after their crews got into a fight after the race, Newman accused Busch of having a “chemical imbalance.” A couple of weeks later he was suspended from NASCAR for one race after telling a reporter that probation “refrains me from not beating the shit out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions.”

Throughout all of this turmoil, Driscoll says she worked overtime to help Busch improve his image, on and off the track. She used her public relations and media experience to help him rebuild relationships with NASCAR teams and sponsors. She pushed behind the scenes for him to slow down his drinking, see a sports psychologist, and get mental health treatment. She was encouraged all along by members of the NASCAR community who recognized Busch’s talent and wanted to see him get back to the top of the sport.

Over and over again, she remembers hearing the same refrain: “If anyone can handle [Busch] it’s you. Maybe he needs a good woman to straighten this situation out.”

For a while, her presence did seem to be making an impact — Busch was calmer on the track, and more professional off of it. When he clinched a spot in the 2013 Chase, he cried and dedicated the race to Driscoll’s son, Houston, while talking about how much he cherished his role as a “stepdad.”

“To me, it’s a chapter as if I am married and I’m not single and this is what my role is in life right now is to help him grow as a young man and also with my career, getting it back on track and being successful in all areas,” he said.

Patricia Driscoll and Kurt Busch. CREDIT: AP Photo/Adam Peck
Patricia Driscoll and Kurt Busch. CREDIT: AP Photo/Adam Peck

In May 2014, Busch received a lot of positive publicity when he attempted what is known in racing circles as “The Double” — meaning he ran both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina, on the same day. This feat has only been attempted by four drivers in the history of the sport, and seeing as it involves two different styles of cars, two tracks nearly 600 miles apart, and over 1,000 miles of racing, it’s easy to see why. But Driscoll and Busch turned the event into a huge fundraiser for the Armed Forces Foundation, and, the way she saw it, a huge opportunity to revamp his reputation, with plenty of reporters and documentary crews following the quest. Though Busch wasn’t able to finish — his engine blew out halfway through the Charlotte race — Driscoll has incredibly fond memories of the event.

“This was the pinnacle of getting his career turned around,” she said. “That was the best time in our relationship.”

Four months later, she was donning a turtleneck to hide her bruises.

DBut even though Busch had a horrible temper, and even though Driscoll told ThinkProgress that he had previously abused her — she claims Busch hit her when he was drunk back in 2012, an allegation that Busch has denied in court — she still envisioned a future with the driver. Every time she was close to calling it quits, he would find a way to draw her back in.

“Any time he saw you at the edge, he would make you the promises that he was going to fix this. And you want to believe him,” she said. “Because the other side of him … he doesn’t do any of this around my son. I know that guy is in there, I know he exists, why don’t you try to be him all the time?”

Everything changed on September 21, 2014. That Sunday, he had a terrible race in New Hampshire that knocked him out of contention for a championship. Busch was irate afterwards, screaming at everyone in sight — his crew members, his motorhome driver, and especially Driscoll.

She was sure he’d calm down after they left the track — after all, they were supposed to go straight from the New Hampshire track to a romantic New England getaway to celebrate their four-year anniversary. But Busch didn’t leave his temper behind.

Driscoll testified later in court that as Busch drove away in their rental car, his anger quickly shifted from his NASCAR team to their relationship. At one point, he got so angry that he tore the rearview mirror off of the front windshield of the car, slamming it on Driscoll’s leg as he threw it to the backseat, leaving a bruise behind.

“Fuck you, we’re done,” he told Driscoll, and he drove toward Boston Logan International Airport instead of continuing on to their romantic hotel.

Driscoll was furious. She kicked him out of the rental car and drove off with his luggage still inside. As she sped off, sobbing uncontrollably, she got a text from Busch: “I knew you’d pull a stunt like this. Bye forever.”

Texts provided to ThinkProgress by Patricia Driscoll. Graphic by Adam Peck.
Texts provided to ThinkProgress by Patricia Driscoll. Graphic by Adam Peck.

It wasn’t unusual for Driscoll and Busch to break up and get back together. But they’d never had a blow-up quite like this before. Driscoll didn’t hear from Busch for the next week, and she was worried about him.

The next Friday, after he had a terrible qualifying performance at the track in Dover, Delaware, she sent him a text: “How are you?”

His responses alarmed her. She had always worried about Busch’s mental health, and considering her experience working with soldiers suffering from PTSD, she didn’t think he should be alone. So Driscoll quickly packed a bag, put Houston into her car, and drove the 100 minutes to Dover, Delaware, arriving at about 10:00 p.m.

Busch, who was lying naked in the dark in his king-size bed in the back of the trailer when Driscoll walked in with Houston, was not happy that they had made the trip.

Their account of the night differs. But they agree that they argued in hushed tones in Busch’s bedroom for about 10 minutes while Houston watched television in the front of the motorhome. Busch repeatedly asked Driscoll to leave and told her the relationship was over for good. She tried to call his bluff, and if he was going to end their relationship, he needed to tell Houston — and that’s when she says he “snapped.”

Driscoll testified — and later reiterated to ThinkProgress — that Busch sprang from the bed, grabbed her by the throat with one hand, grabbed her face with the other hand, and smashed her head into the wall three times.

“It felt like I couldn’t breathe, he was choking me,” she said. “He had my face so tight it hurt, just smashed my head.”

“He had this very crazy look in his eyes. He scared me.”

Driscoll didn’t stick around to see what would happen next. She grabbed Houston and ran out. Hysterical and hurting, she could only make it to the other end of the parking lot, where her friends Nick and Amy Terry lived. The Terrys, who ran the Motor Racing Outreach church, had often counseled Driscoll and Busch on their relationship. Houston played with the couple’s children as a shellshocked Driscoll told them what had just happened in the trailer. They gave her ibuprofen for the pain and frozen Brussels sprouts to place on the tender areas.

As she sat there talking to the Terrys, still feeling Busch’s hands around her neck, still struggling to breathe, she got a text message from Busch.

Text provided to ThinkProgress by Patricia Driscoll. Graphic by Adam Peck.
Text provided to ThinkProgress by Patricia Driscoll. Graphic by Adam Peck.

D“I wanted to remind myself of what he had done to me,” she said. “I needed this to remind me any time I was starting to feel weaker, he might come to apologize, that this was not acceptable and he will not do this to me, and I will not go back no matter what.

“I just can’t go back.”

One of the pictures Driscoll took early in the morning of September 27, 2014. CREDIT: Patricia Driscoll
One of the pictures Driscoll took early in the morning of September 27, 2014. CREDIT: Patricia Driscoll

When she woke up the next day, her head and neck were still killing her. Her throat still felt crushed. She was scared, confused. Her neighbors came over and helped her change the security codes to her house.

She thought about going to the police, but she knew she couldn’t do anything like that until she got in touch with her custody lawyer. Driscoll was in the middle of a nasty legal battle with her ex-husband, Geoff Hermanstorfer, who disliked Busch and was trying to get full custody of Houston. Busch was supporting Driscoll in the custody fight, and they were presenting a front as a stable couple — an image that would obviously be shattered if Driscoll went public with the abuse. Driscoll was especially worried because she interpreted Busch’s text to her the night after the assault as a direct threat to the ongoing custody battle.

There were other hurdles, too. This was just weeks after the video of NFL running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee Janay Price in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, elevator was released publicly by TMZ and played over and over again on every single network news station. Domestic violence in sports was not a niche topic at the time; it was dominating the mainstream conversation.

“I wanted this resolved very quietly,” she said. “I didn’t want a Ray Rice situation.”

So she decided to try and work things out privately, behind the scenes. She wanted to work with a lawyer who she and Kurt both knew to quietly divide their assets, establish boundaries, and make sure that Kurt got the help she felt he needed, be it through rehab or therapy or medication. But after a couple of weeks, Driscoll felt Busch was not cooperating.

Tensions escalated after Driscoll got word that Busch was assembling a team of high-powered crisis management representatives and lawyers, and was starting to spread rumors about her reputation.

Texts provided to ThinkProgress by Patricia Driscoll. Graphic by Adam Peck.
Texts provided to ThinkProgress by Patricia Driscoll. Graphic by Adam Peck.

Andy Tiller, an acquaintance of Driscoll’s and Busch’s who met the couple after starting an in-good-fun parody twitter account for the driver, @KurtsTemper, quickly got caught in the middle of the battle. According to Tiller, while Driscoll’s story remained consistent, the story coming from Busch’s team changed drastically in the weeks after the assault.

At first, Busch’s team expressed concern, and asked Tiller to help mediate between Driscoll and Busch. Tiller said he was asked to tell Driscoll that Busch was in a bad place because of his struggles on the race track.

But when Busch’s team hosted Tiller at a race in Charlotte in mid October, taking Tiller behind the scenes to spend time with Busch and the rest of the team, the tune changed. Busch’s public relations team stressed how happy Busch was without Driscoll in his life. Things took a particularly strange turn when members of Busch’s team started telling Tiller that Driscoll was a trained assassin.

“[His PR associate] told me she’s a trained assassin for the CIA, that she goes on these trips to Central America and Africa to kill drug lords,” Tiller said. “I was like, Good Lord.”

Driscoll — who insists she is not a trained assassin for the CIA — thought Tiller had to be mistaken when he told her about the rumors Busch’s team was spreading. She dismissed him, unaware these wild allegations would follow her for years to come.

By this point, Driscoll was frustrated. She was making no inroads settling things privately with Busch. She had the impression that NASCAR officials didn’t want her to go public with the accusations because they didn’t want it to impact their season. She noticed strange cars pulling into her driveway. She was having a hard time sleeping. She kept feeling his hands around her neck; she kept remembering what it felt like to have her head smashed against the wall. This time, she couldn’t blame the abuse on alcohol. What else might he be capable of?

In late October, she had a chance run-in with a member of Busch’s public relations team at a Starbucks in Maryland, and he warned her that things “wouldn’t turn out well for her” if she continued to pursue justice. She took that as a threat, and felt like going to the police was the only way she could feel safe.

And so, after connecting with a family lawyer in Dover, on November 5 Driscoll filed a police report and requested a protective order from the state of Delaware.

DAs a courtesy, she gave NASCAR officials a heads up before she filed the report. By the time she left for Dover to file the complaint, an Associated Press reporter was already calling her phone.

There is no “Jane Doe” clause when it comes to domestic violence victims. Within hours, her name was published everywhere and her phone was flooded with Twitter alerts. Kurt’s team — which now included high-powered attorney Rusty Hardin, who had previously worked with high-profile athletes Roger Clemens and Adrian Peterson — had their denials ready to go.

By early afternoon, TMZ published an article with the headline, “Kurt Busch: I Did Not Choke My Ex-GF.” The article claimed that days after the assault, a lawyer representing Driscoll reached out to Busch looking for money, a fact that Driscoll adamantly denies. Hardin told TMZ, “This allegation is a complete fabrication by a woman who has refused to accept the end of a relationship and Mr. Busch vehemently denies her allegations in every respect.”

She was instantly flooded with hateful comments from online trolls.

Tweets sent to Patricia Driscoll. Graphic by Adam Peck.
Tweets sent to Patricia Driscoll. Graphic by Adam Peck.

“It was death threats and, ‘You should have your child taken from you, you’re a gold digger. You’re a whore, you’re just after his money.’ Somebody started a petition to have me removed from the foundation,” she recalled.

Meanwhile, Busch’s professional career continued as planned. Despite the calls of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Busch continued to drive in NASCAR for the remaining month of the season. NASCAR said that “it wouldn’t be right of us to just intervene before they’ve even gotten the investigation completed,” and Busch’s team owners, Stewart-Haas racing, said that Busch had their full support, although they also admitted to Sports Illustrated that they had not contacted Driscoll to get her side of the story.

It took five weeks for the family court hearing in Dover over the Protection From Abuse (PFA) to begin. Not only did that allow Busch to finish out the NASCAR season, it also permitted him to travel to Italy for a week for a sponsor event. When Driscoll arrived to court that day, she was shocked to see her ex-husband and his new wife in court, hanging out with Busch’s team. A few weeks ago he had been trying to get her child taken away from her partly because of Busch; now, he was on Busch’s side.

Driscoll’s ex-husband did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The hearing was expected to last a few hours, maybe a day. It ended up stretching for four days over two months.

“I’ve never had a PFA hearing go for four days. I’ve rarely had one go for four hours,” Carolyn McNeice, Driscoll’s attorney, said. “The media created the circus atmosphere. It made it very difficult to keep control of any of the facts or the testimony.”

The trial was intense — and unflattering — for both parties. Driscoll opened up by talking openly about Busch’s history of alcohol abuse. She described in detail the horrible things he allegedly said about his NASCAR team the night of in question, and said that before the alleged assault, he told her, “If I had a gun I would just kill myself, I’m just done with everything.”

Busch’s team, meanwhile, went directly after Driscoll’s credibility.

In his opening statements, Hardin called Driscoll’s allegations “unbelievable.” He said that on the night in question, she was “a trespasser.” He called her “disingenuous,” “calculating,” and “literally someone who is extremely mercenary.” He used the texts she sent days after the assault, portraying her continued love and concern for Busch, against her.

Hardin opened his cross examination by asking: “Ms. Driscoll, have you ever told anyone that you intended to ruin Kurt Busch?”

He painted Driscoll as a bitter, gold-digging ex hell-bent on getting revenge because Busch broke up with her, and noted that she had accused former partners of abuse as well. (The judge shut down this argument, noting that it was “entirely possible” for someone to have been abused multiple times, and therefore report the abuse multiple times.)

Hardin stressed over and over again that Busch asked Driscoll to leave his trailer the night she rushed over, saying, “If you had done what he asked you to do in his home, none of this would have ever had an opportunity to happen, whatever it was that happened.”

An exchange between Rusty Hardin and Patricia Driscoll at the PFA hearing on December 16, 2014.
An exchange between Rusty Hardin and Patricia Driscoll at the PFA hearing on December 16, 2014.

That exchange, as dramatic as it was, didn’t dominate media coverage of the hearing. That’s because Hardin also introduced another line of defense that day — a video called “Pocket Commando,” a sizzle reel for a reality television pilot that Driscoll made back in 2009, two years before she met Busch.

The video, which portrays Driscoll as a badass, gun-loving, take-no-crap, self-proclaimed “commando mommy,” was filmed as part of a reality show that Driscoll shut down once she saw the unflattering way she was portrayed in the pilot. She believes her copy of the video was stolen by a former staffer and uploaded to YouTube without permission.

Hardin sowed the seeds for this story in his opening statements: “So here’s the pocket rocket, or pocket commando, excuse me, the pocket commando is now saying, ‘you’re going to do it my way Kurt or I’m going to destroy you.’” Busch’s team ran with this “trained assassin” narrative throughout the trial.

By the time the first day of the trial was over, the Pocket Commando video had already spread throughout the internet, and TMZ had published an “exclusive” story about it.

Hardin told the judge the tape was relevant to the case at hand because it proved that Driscoll wouldn’t have been afraid of Busch. “I don’t believe anybody could look at this video and conclude that this lady is, just as her counsel said, would have been intimidated, afraid, or reacted the way she claims she did not only the night of the incident, but the fear she claims she’s had for all this period of time,” Hardin said.

The rest of the trial took on a circus-like atmosphere. Busch’s motorhome driver talked about Driscoll limping around the trailer, regaling him with tales of rounding up undocumented immigrants on the border. Busch talked about how scared he was of Driscoll, how she would show him photos on her phone of people she had killed. He talked about how she was a trained CIA operative, and how she once showed up to a date wearing a bloodstained ball gown. (Driscoll says that particular story came directly from a screenplay she was working on that Busch read.) These were the stories that dominated the headlines all over the media, from CNN to Keith Olbermann to the Today Show to Deadspin.

Lost in the mayhem? The fact that the people who testified on Busch’s behalf did not contradict Driscoll’s version of events that night. The fact that most (if not all) of them had financial ties to Busch and to the success of his NASCAR career. And the fact that, when he was on the stand, Busch said “it’s possible” he told a detective that when he cupped his hands around Driscoll’s face in the trailer that night, he moved her head back so far that it hit the wall.

Ultimately, however, the judge was not completely swept away by the sideshow. On February 16, 2015 — five weeks after the trial ended, and just as the NASCAR season got underway — the judge granted Driscoll the protective order she sought against Busch.

“The court finds that by a preponderance of the evidence that the Respondent has committed an act or repeated acts of domestic violence against the Petitioner,” the decision read. Elaborating on his findings, the judge wrote that he found Busch’s testimony to be less credible than Driscoll’s, due to “the manner in which he initially testified regarding those events, his obvious interest in preserving his racing career, which could be endangered by a finding that he committed domestic violence, the fact that his testimony conflicts with the documentary evidence that corroborates [Driscoll’s] version of the events” and the fact that the Court found Busch’s version of events “is implausible, does not make sense and is unlikely to be true given the totality of the other evidence admitted at trial.”

WFans who believed that Driscoll really was a trained assassin, and a lying gold digger merely out for revenge, flooded her with threats on social media despite the judge’s decision.

“The feeding frenzy was ridiculous. I couldn’t believe that even after he was found to have committed an act of abuse, people still wanted to say that she was making this up,” said Carolyn McNeice, Driscoll’s lawyer.

When NASCAR decided to indefinitely suspend Busch days before the Daytona 500 because of the domestic abuse, keeping him out of NASCAR’s premiere event, the blowback intensified.

“After I got the restraining order was really bad. After he got suspended was 100 times worse, to the point where the police had to come stay in the house,” Driscoll said. “The fans are on me. They just want me dead. The death threats were horrible after he was suspended.”

Then, Driscoll was blindsided by news in early March that the Dover AG was not going to pursue criminal charges against Busch because “the admissible evidence and available witnesses would likely be insufficient to meet the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Busch committed a crime during the September 26th incident.”

On March 11, Busch was reinstated by NASCAR. He finished in the top five in his first two races back, and by May he was back in Victory Lane and his redemption stories were being written. The more success Busch had, the more the trolls would flood Driscoll’s social media timelines.

It got so bad that she had to change her cell phone number. At one point, she said, her Wikipedia page had 23,000 edits. Wikipedia eventually took the page down, after she reached out and complained that people were using the platform to attack domestic violence victims.

Soon, Driscoll got wind that ESPN was digging around in her past. Her friends started getting calls from reporters — including friends whose contact information was available to Busch. At first she thought outlets were pursuing another “trained assassin” story in the aftermath of the trial. But in early May, she realized it was something much different.

ESPN reporters weren’t coming after Patricia Driscoll, alleged domestic violence victim. They were coming after Patricia Driscoll, Armed Forces Foundation President.

It turned out that ESPN’s investigative unit, Outside the Lines, had been tipped off about financial issues at the foundation, issues that Driscoll believed — and still believes — were cleared by independent auditors after a complaint by a disgruntled employee in 2012.

On May 22, Outside the Lines released an investigation titled, “Kurt Busch’s ex-girlfriend used veterans charity as bank.” The bombshell story, which was cross-promoted across all ESPN platforms, accused Driscoll of, among other things, using the foundation credit card to buy expensive Moroccan rugs for her house, pay rent for her defense company, and finance personal travel for herself and her son.

The same story reported that a former employee of Driscoll’s had reported these claims to the FBI and was preparing to file a federal whistleblower complaint with the IRS.

On June 12, OTL reported that the “FBI, IRS were investigating Patricia Driscoll.”

Weeks away from her custody trial — in which Busch was listed as a possible witness for her ex-husband — she knew it was all too much. In July, Driscoll resigned as the president of the Armed Forces Foundation.

For Driscoll, one of the hardest parts of this time was seeing her friends, family members, and former employees — people she had loved and, at one point, trusted — turn against her both privately and publicly.

“Everyone who wants to get back at you, it’s an opportunity,” she said.

During her custody trial, Tanya Finch, Driscoll’s former assistant who happened to be the first cousin of her ex-husband, testified that she took credit card statements, checking account statements, receipts, and invoices from the AFF when she left the company.

Many of the documents Finch admitted to taking matched documents that ESPN reporters cited in their investigation. Finch denies that she was the source of the information reported by ESPN.

“I was served with a subpoena in the custody case by the attorneys for Ms. Driscoll’s former husband, Geoff Hermanstorfer, and produced the documents in response to the subpoena, which was my legal obligation and was not objected to by Ms. Driscoll,” Finch said in a statement provided to ThinkProgress via email. “Geoff’s attorneys introduced those documents as evidence in the public proceeding, making them available to the public, including journalists who were covering the trial.”

After the Delaware judge granted Driscoll the PFA, Finch sent out an e-mail to colleagues soliciting negative stories about Driscoll and asking them to pass them on to Busch’s legal team.

She didn’t hide her reasoning, either.

“When I first heard about the drama with Kurt Busch I — my first reaction was that it never happened, that Patricia fabricated it,” Finch said, according to court transcripts provided to ThinkProgress. “When Kurt Busch got suspended on or around February 20th… I decided I needed to act. I needed to act to prevent her from ruining this man’s life based on my assumption that it was a fabricated story.”

At the end of the trial, Driscoll and her ex-husband ended up with equal custody of Houston, exactly like they had at the beginning.

IDr. Kathie Mathis, the National Training Director at the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation (NWCAVE), said that when a sports star is involved, sports teams and institutions and fans serve as an extension of that family system.

“The athlete has this public persona — I’m wonderful, I’m popular, and if I’m punished you won’t have a team that wins, you won’t have a hero to support, you will have your bubble burst and find out that I am just a human being like you,” Mathis said. “People love fantasy. People buy into the fact that this is my team, this is my guy, this is my outlet where I can feel better about my life.”

Often, as in Driscoll’s case, fans will go through great lengths to make the lives of the alleged victims who publicly accuse their favorite athletes absolutely miserable.

There are plenty of examples. The woman who accused then-Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of rape had to drop out of college due to the abuse she received on campus, while Winston went on to be the №1 draft pick in 2015 and is currently the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The woman who accused former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy of domestic violence told ESPN that she has moved twice, change her phone number multiple times, and even considered changing her name due to the constant harassment. Meanwhile, Hardy was signed with the Dallas Cowboys even after the domestic abuse allegations became public — his NFL career only stalled after reports that he was a terrible teammate and often late to practice during his season in Dallas. He’s currently unsigned and pursuing an MMA career. Back in 2002, the woman who accused Kobe Bryant of rape had her photo splashed all over the cover of the National Enquirer and her sexual history dissected by the media. She was forced to move out of her hometown at the time due to safety concerns. Last year, Bryant was thrown a hero’s retirement tour by the NBA.

Brenda Tracy, a survivor and NWCAVE No More Summit keynote speaker who accused two Oregon State football players of sexual assault and gang rape back in 1998, knows all too well how these women feel.

Even though her name wasn’t reported in the media at the time, Tracy received death threats from people in the community after she reported the crime to the police, and she ended up dropping the charges two weeks later. Oregon State’s head coach at the time, Mike Riley, suspended the two players for one game and told the media the players were “really good guys who made a bad choice.”

Since Tracy went public with her story over two years ago and began taking on high-profile work as a rape activist, she’s been subject to nonstop abuse online.

“We’re revictimized over and over and over simply for having the courage to use our voice. We are now not only a victim of a crime, but society turns us into perpetrators, as if we’re trying to ruin someone else’s life, when all we’re doing is exercising our right as an American citizen and expecting justice to work for us,” Tracy said.

“I don’t understand these people who do this. I don’t understand why our lives are just nothing compared to their sports. I know what it’s like to feel and know literally that a football game is more important than my life.”

SLast fall, Driscoll was indicted on eight federal charges. When the news became public, headlines read, “NASCAR ‘assassin’ ex charged with ripping off military charity.” She “vehemently denies” the allegations, according to her lawyer.

Driscoll hears frequently from other victims of domestic violence and sexual assault — women in the NASCAR community, on Capitol Hill, and in the television media — who thank her for coming forward and pursuing justice. These stories give her courage. But they don’t rid her of regret completely.

“I don’t care how many people I inspired by not staying quiet, I should have,” she said through sobs last summer. “The law is not here to protect victims. At all.”

Mathis understands why Driscoll, and many other survivors, end up second guessing their decision to come forward and report a crime. After all, she says, everyone in society — from judges to reporters to fans to police officers — are conditioned very early on to assume that there’s something wrong with women, that they are the root of the problem. But she also knows that the only way to fix the system is for more women like Driscoll to speak up.

“There is never going to be any changes in our country when it comes to survivors and victims unless all of us stand up. There’s power when that happens,” Mathis said.

CREDIT: Adam Peck
CREDIT: Adam Peck

“Do you know how courageous it is for any survivor to stand up and say, ‘Here is my story, I’m standing in my truth and I know what’s coming my way but I have to do this, because my doing this will help another survivor stand up and speak their truth’? That is a true woman warrior.”

Driscoll has worked hard to rebuild her life, even as parts of it continue to crumble around her. She’s in a new relationship now, which she says is the healthiest one she’s ever been in. Her business is doing well. She’s spending a lot of time with her son. Thanks to good friends, lots of therapy, and plenty of yoga, she’s found a sense of peace — and a new mission in life.

She wants to use her connections in Congress to make sure that the “Jane Doe” laws that apply to rape victims also apply to domestic violence victims; she wants a woman to be able to report domestic violence and not immediately become tabloid fodder. That shield won’t fix everything, but it would be a start.

“I want these women to not get victimized after the fact like I did,” she said.

“Because the beating I took afterwards is a million times worse than what happened that night.”

This story initially incorrectly reported that Tanya Finch testified that she was fired from AFF. Finch did not testify to this effect. The story has been corrected to state that she left the company in good standing. ThinkProgress regrets the error.

Erica Hellerstein contributed reporting to this story. Adam Peck contributed graphics to this story.