In Our Shoes community art project kicks off in April as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month |

In Our Shoes community art project kicks off in April as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Advocates of Routt County is working to shine a light on one of life’s most painful experiences — sexual assault — in an effort to effect positive change through awareness.

It’s about “opening up a dialogue” about consent and what constitutes a healthy relationship as well the reality that “sexual assault does happen in our community,” Advocates Executive Director Lisel Petis said.

It’s also about “making sure victims and survivors feel supported,” she said.

The Advocates team, along with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center forensic nurse examiner Patty Oakland, has been going to high schools and talking with students in health classes as well as sports teams and drama clubs.

Oakland joined the nonprofit in October as a social change advocate.

“We have to talk about it,” Oakland said, adding that a more open approach is a way to address the fact that sexual assaults are “extremely underreported.”

The response has been positive, Oakland said. “The students are extremely interactive and give great feedback.”

The majority of sexual assaults in Routt County aren’t a “stranger in the dark alley” scenario, Petis said. It’s more interpersonal in domestic or dating situations and drug-facilitated sexual assaults.

If you go

Eat Chat Parent
• 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at Steamboat Springs High School, 45 Maple St.

In Our Shoes: Share your story through shoe art
• 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, April 13, at Big Iron Coffee Co., 635 Lincoln Ave.
• 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at The Barley Tap and Tavern, 635 Lincoln Ave.

Education is key to prevention, Oakland said.

The first April event, Eat Chat Parent, takes place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at Steamboat Springs High School.

The event for parents will address topics including relationships and consent.

“It’s an opportunity to learn about how to have a conversation with your teenager about healthy relationships,” Oakland said.

Crisis line

Advocates of Routt County: 970-879-8888

Then on Saturday, April 13, Advocates will host its first In Our Shoes shoe decorating event in partnership with Steamboat Pilot & Today, which is taking a closer look at the impact of sexual assault in the community.

Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman said she was looking for an in-depth reporting project for her news team to tackle this year.

“In light of the #MeToo movement, the (Brett) Kavanaugh hearing and stories I’ve heard from local women, I knew the time was right to tackle the very serious issue of sexual assault,” Schlichtman said.

Starting in June, an eight-week series of stories will cover a wide range of topics surrounding sexual assault, including local and national statistics, resources, personal stories and educational outreach efforts by schools, businesses and law enforcement.

“We want to write about the issue and shine a spotlight on it, but I didn’t want to stop there,” Schlichtman said. “I also want to spark community dialogue.”

The In Our Shoes project will use art as a community-centered way “to get people to talk about something that is very difficult to talk about,” she said.

“It’s not just about women,” Schlichtman said. “Men are victims, as well. It’s about coming together as a community to discuss a very important issue.”

The decorated shoes will go on display July 27. There also will be a spoken word event that invites the community to share essays, poems, songs or a dance about how they have been affected by sexual assault.

“I truly believe evil thrives in darkness,” Schlichtman said. “As journalists, one of the most impactful things we can do is draw back the curtain and shine light on the problem. And, hopefully, make positive change.”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.

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