Advocates: Sexual violence in Routt County |

Advocates: Sexual violence in Routt County

Recent and on-going news of sexual assault and misconduct among rich and famous people in our society raises the question: Is this going on in Routt County? And if so, what can we do about it?

Here we are, a beautiful mountain county of 24,000 people with three small towns, where most people look out for each other, and a “family-friendly” ski resort. It is hard to imagine that we have such things happening here – but we do.

Advocates Building Peaceful Communities, a 34-year-old local nonprofit, serves the purpose of preventing and responding to domestic and sexual violence in Routt County. From 2014 to 2017, it served a total of 63 victims of sexual violence.

The most recent and extreme local case involved a Steamboat man who plead guilty to multiple charges of sexual assault, contributing to the prostitution of minors and trafficking for sexual servitude (slavery), involving several underage local girls. He is presently awaiting sentencing. The more common situation in our county is that of young women 15 to 28 who go on a date, meet someone at a party or in a bar and have an unexpected and unwanted sexual encounter. In some cases, drugs are dropped into their drinks or they have imbibed too much alcohol.

Another scenario we have seen in our county is a male family member, father, stepfather or grandfather, sexually abusing younger children in the household. Advocates reports that ages of most victims during the past 4 years ranged from 15 to 44 and two were male. Reporting in some cases occurred immediately, while in others it was days or months later. The Steamboat Police Department says that many cases of sexual assault go unreported, which is a major issue across the country.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five women (18.3 percent) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, and 91 percent of all rape and sexual assault victims are women. Forty-two percent of victims were raped before the age of 18.

The CDC reports that the medical costs of rape and sexual violence in the U.S. are larger than for any other crime, amounting to $127 billion annually. In eight out of 10 cases of sexual assault, the victim knew the person who assaulted them.

According to the 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey Report completed by 1,523 students from 33 middle and high schools across the state, 9.9 percent of female students and 4.2 percent of male students reported having been physically forced to have sexual intercourse.

While this data and examples provide some context, data on the magnitude of sexual violence remains incomplete. Measuring the true magnitude of sexual violence is difficult because of nondisclosure, different data collection and analysis methodologies, and the varying definitions of sexual violence.

What is being done in Routt County to address this issue and what more can we do? Advocates has historically initiated and coordinated a Sexual Assault Response Team — SART — that works alongside law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and the Yampa Valley Medical Center to provide response, protocols and investigations. Funding now provides a SART coordinator to fill that role on behalf of all agencies.

Advocates offers shelter to victims of sexual violence and provides immediate response, crisis counseling and advocacy. Advocates presents regularly to middle and high school students about dating and sexual violence. However, we cannot lean on Advocates with their few staff members and limited budget to handle this issue alone.

The time has come for every citizen and institution in our county to step up to the plate on prevention and reporting. This includes all of our local government bodies, employers, parents, schools, churches and community groups.

What sexual predators fear most is being revealed. Potential victims might foil attacks by threatening to report the predator. They should be taught that, if they do not report attacks, they are freeing the predator to attack again and again.

Reporting is a powerful prevention measure. However, traumatized victims and those threatened with reprisals may be too fearful to report. Therefore, all of us need to be the eyes and ears, watching for signs of predation and reporting them.

Girls, boys and adults should be taught that they must not be embarrassed or feel ashamed to report sexual violence and abuse. It is our civic duty to report such incidents.

Victims should know who they can report to. Students should report to teachers or staff and their parents. All incidents should be reported to police, who have gained a high degree of respect within our community and are ready to respond to cases of sexual violence and abuse. This abomination of sexual assault and violence must end. Let us all work together to make it happen.

Advocates is ready to assist your organization in reviewing your current prevention education and reporting around sexual assault or making your first ever plan. You may call Diane Moore, Director of Advocates, at 970-879-2034.

Please also help by supporting with a donation to Advocates Building Peaceful Communities.

Visit our website at Advocates crisis line to report sexual assault and domestic violence is 970-879-8888.

Paul Hebert is a member of the Advocates Building Peaceful Communities board of directors.

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