In Our Shoes: A series on sexual assault in the Yampa Valley |

In Our Shoes: A series on sexual assault in the Yampa Valley

The Steamboat Pilot & Today is launching an in-depth reporting project we’re calling “In Our Shoes” — an eight-week series focused on the issue of sexual assault in Steamboat Springs and Routt County.

The name for the series originated from the idea that you can’t really understand someone else’s circumstances until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. We have taken that concept and applied it to our reporting, and it’s also serving as the basis for the July 27 culminating event we’re planning as a way to bring the community together to begin discussing a topic that is normally shrouded in shame and fear.

By reporting on the issue over the next eight weeks and then bringing people together to openly discuss sexual assault using art as a vehicle for more open conversation, we hope to shine light on a local problem that has remained in the shadows for far too long.

Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman

Need support?

The content of this series can be upsetting or triggering in relation to a trauma you directly or indirectly have experienced.

Advocates of Routt County offers 24/7 support. Reach out confidentially to an advocate by calling the crisis line at 970-879-8888.

What to do if you’re sexually assaulted

Go to the hospital: A victim of sexual assault can choose to get a medical forensic exam without reporting the assault to law enforcement.

Report to law enforcement: Any evidence collected in the medical exam is given to law enforcement with the individual’s contact information. A victim can choose whether the evidence is tested.

Report anonymously: Any evidence collected in the medical exam is given to law enforcement without the victim’s contact information. The victim cannot choose whether to have the evidence tested.

Choose whether to test the evidence: Law enforcement must store the evidence for at least two years. Victims can call the law enforcement agency if they decide to pursue criminal justice options.

Call Advocates of Routt County: 24/7 crisis line 970-879-8888

Source: Colorado Division of Criminal Justice

Communities at risk

Anyone can be a victim of sexual violence, but these communities are disproportionately affected:


• 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner compared with 35% of heterosexual women.

• 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner compared with 29% of heterosexual men.


• 1.3 million women report being raped in the previous 12 months in the United States.

• 18% of women have been raped in their lifetimes compared with 1.4% of men.

Young people

• 80% of female victims experienced their first rape before age 25 and almost half experienced their first rape before age 18.

• 28% of male victims were first raped when they were 10 or younger.

People with disabilities

• An estimated 39% of female victims of rape had a disability at the time of the rape.

• Nearly 24% of male victims who experienced sexual violence other than rape had a disability at the time of the victimization.

People of color

• 22% of black women have experienced rape at some point in their lives.

• 27% of American Indian or Alaska Native women have experienced rape at some point in their lives.

• 33% of multiracial non-Hispanic women reported rape victimization in their lifetimes.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey

Colorado’s rural mountain communities

In Our Shoes events

Events are hosted by the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Advocates of Routt County, Steamboat Creates and Young Bloods Collective. 

• Saturday, July 27: Art exhibit opening, spoken word performances, a specially choreographed dance by the IBI Bridage and panel discussion from 5 to 8 p.m. in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

Aug. 1 to Aug. 31: Art exhibit on display in the Baggage Room at the Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St.

Friday, Aug. 2: Exhibit opens in conjunction with First Friday Artwalk from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Baggage Room at the Depot Art Center

Thursday, Aug. 8: “Beartown” book discussion from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Baggage Room at the Depot Art Center

Thursday, Aug. 15: Restorative yoga and an introduction to Advocates’ survivor support group from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Baggage Room at the Depot Art Center

Thursday, Aug. 22: Healthy relationship presentations for teens and parents from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Baggage Room at the Depot Art Center

Tuesday, Aug. 27: Self-defense class led by Tara Shaffer from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Baggage Room at the Depot Art Center

Part 1: America’s most unreported crime: A look at sexual assault cases in Routt County, and why so many never make it to court

John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It is not easy to talk about sex. Discussing sex crimes poses another challenge entirely.

But for too long, survivors of sexual assault and other nonconsensual intimacy have not received the voice they shout for or the justice they deserve.

In a small town like Steamboat Springs, it can be easy to sweep a problem like this under the rug and focus instead on pettier crimes, like the drunken partiers stumbling through downtown. 

Read more.

From the editor: Shining a light on the issue of sexual assault

Seven months ago, I began searching for a project that would flex and challenge the collective reporting muscles of the Steamboat Pilot & Today news team. My attention soon turned to the issue of sexual assault for a number of reasons.

Nationally, prominent women were coming forward to talk about the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The powerful #MeToo movement, combined with the Brent Cavanaugh hearings live broadcast, made this a timely topic and then there were the stories that had been shared with me over the years by women living in Steamboat Springs who had survived sexual assault. Their stories of being roofied at local bars and then assaulted haunted me, and I knew now was the right time to delve into the issue.

Read more.

Part 2: A survivor’s next steps: Getting care and collecting evidence following a sexual assault

John F. Russell

After a sexual assault, there’s often more than just the evidence in the room where it happened. There’s the evidence, including DNA, injuries and other trace evidence, that can be found on or in a survivor’s body.

As part of a forensic medical exam, a sexual assault nurse examiner can look for injuries and anything abnormal on a survivor’s body and collect or document other evidence. These nurses are specially trained to care for a person after a sexual assault.

Read more.

After you’ve been sexually assaulted: Figuring out how to report it

After a sexual assault, you should first find a safe place, then seek medical care. Call 911 if you are in danger. Dispatchers can connect you to an advocate at Advocates of Routt County or to law enforcement.

You can also contact Advocates of Routt County’s 24-hour safe line at 970-879-8888 or email Advocates can also help you work through the medical, criminal and legal process after a sexual assault.

Read more.

Part 3: Evolution in understanding: Law enforcement agencies embrace trauma-informed approach when investigating, prosecuting sexual assault cases

John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Detective Sam Silva is soft spoken, and his eyes are kind. His smile is reassuring, shattering any preconceived notions someone might have of cynical, tough-talking cops who batter witnesses with a barrage of questions to get to the truth.

Over the past few years, Silva has come to specialize in investigating sexual assault cases for the Steamboat Springs Police Department. In particular, he has received extensive training in how to conduct more effective and empathetic victim interviews — an approach that is often referred to as trauma-informed interviewing.

Read more.

In Our Shoes: Sexual assault’s effects on the nervous system

Dr. Michael Barnes, Chief Medical Officer at the Steamboat Springs Foundry Treatment Center, talks about how trauma affects the brain.
John F. Russell

When a person is sexually assaulted, he or she might remember the color of the walls, the smell of room or the texture of the sheets.

But the painted picture of the story is unfinished. The brain’s protective responses are meant to help cope, but can do more harm than good.

Read more.

Agencies work together on sexual assault response, prevention

Jerry Stabile, patrol commander for the Steamboat Springs Police Department, goes over some paperwork with Patty Oakland, forensic nurse examiner and social change advocate with Advocates of Routt County and other members of the Sexual Assault Response Team — SART — during the group’s meeting in June.
John F. Russell

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.

Read more.

Stories of survival: Sexual assault victims speak out

Share your thoughts: Opinions from our readers

Behind the Byline: Reporters share their experiences writing about sexual assault

Thanks to our sponsors

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.