Agencies work together on sexual assault response, prevention

Jerry Stabile Patrol Commander for the Steamboat Springs Police Department discusses a topic with Patty Oakland of Advocates of Routt County and other members of Routt County’s Sexual Assault Response Team during the group’s meeting earlier this month.
John F. Russell
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When it comes to fighting sexual assault in Routt County, there might be no better weapon than the Sexual Assault Response Team, known as SART.

The group, which meets monthly, includes representatives from all law enforcement agencies, including the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and the Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Oak Creek police departments, as well as the District Attorney’s Office, the Routt County Department of Human Services, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and Advocates of Routt County.

Advocates started the SART program years ago, and in 2017, when a grant that supported the program ended, Patty Oakland took over facilitating the meetings as a volunteer in her role as a forensic nurse. This past year, Advocates found funding to allow the nonprofit to again assume leadership of the SART, and now, Oakland leads the meetings as Advocates’ social change advocate.

“The SART meetings have been revamped to get further team engagement and have more result-orientated discussions, and we have seen incredible support and buy-in from our community partners,” said Advocates Executive Director Lisel Petis.

According to Petis, SART has several goals including to:

• Create more trauma-informed processes and protocols.
• Increase awareness around reporting options.
• Provide education to all partners and, ultimately, reduce the number of sexual assaults in the community.

Monthly meetings give all SART partners an opportunity to discuss various issues surrounding sexual assault.

At the most recent meeting in June, the group discussed a new Good Night Out program, which is aimed at educating local bar owners, managers and workers about the issues surrounding sexual assault with the goal of reducing the incidence of alcohol- or drug-facilitated sexual assaults in Steamboat Springs. They also tackled issues surrounding mandatory reporting and discussed barriers to reporting sexual assault among teens.

Hayden Police officer John Kregar speaks at a recent SART meeting in Steamboat Springs. Police officers from around Routt County, as well as representatives from UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and Advocates of Routt County are all part of Routt County’s Sexual Assault Response Team.
John F. Russell

“We also look at best practices and more trauma-informed processes for everything from interviewing victims to forensic exams to supporting a victim during court and educating each other on issues that affect victims that we are mutually working with and reviewing real cases to see what we can learn to strengthen investigations and prosecutions and close gaps,” Petis said.

The overarching goal of SART is to better serve survivors who benefit from local agencies working together on their behalf.

“Our collaboration is tremendous, and we focus on the victim,” Oakland said. “For a small community, we’re leaps and bounds ahead of other communities.”

Justin Keys, who owns the Barley, stopped by a recent SART meeting to discuss the Good Night Out Campaign with members of SART including Todd Munden, an officer with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office. Keys laid out the approach a couple of local bars in Steamboat Springs will be taking to make their customers feel more comfortable and to help prevent sexual assault that the group hopes will become common place in Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Oak Creek at some point.
John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen also sees the benefits of an active and engaged SART program.

“Because of these partnerships, we can gain a better understanding of the challenges a survivor faces,” Christensen said. “That compassion gives us a point of view to understand them. It’s together that we’re able to help survivors through what is a horrific event.”

To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email or follow her on Twitter @lschlichtman.

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