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

The Steamboat Pilot & Today has published 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.

John F. Russell

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

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 the full story.

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 the full story.

John F. Russell

Part 2

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

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 the full story.

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 the full story.

John F. Russell

Part 3

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

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 the full story.

Sexual assault’s effects on the nervous system

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 the full story.

Agencies work together on sexual assault response, prevention

Jerry Stabile, patrol commander for the Steamboat Springs Police Department
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 the full story.

File photo

Part 4

Combating the culture: Teams, local sports programs work to protect young athletes from sexual assault

Sports are supposed to build character, but in recent years, sexual abuse crimes have put that mission into question.

Investigators and journalists have uncovered criminal cases that span the world of athletics — from the Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s 52 counts of child molestation in 2011 to the Baylor University Title IX lawsuit for its mishandling of sexual assaults by football players in 2015.

Now the most highly-publicized scandal in sports has been ongoing since 2016: the indictment of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar for possession of child pornography and 10 counts of sexual assault.

Most recently in Colorado, former FC Boulder youth soccer coach pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of a child after the 36-year-old coach had sex with a 15-year-old in exchange for free private lessons.

Read the full story.

Reports of sexual assault have spiked in the LGBTQ community in Colorado. Organizations in Steamboat and across the state point are trying to help.
John F. Russell

Part 5

Rift in the rainbow: Rise in sexual assault reporting within LGBTQ community reveals pervading fears, distrust

This year’s Denver PrideFest was the first LGBTQ festival I have ever attended, and it did not disappoint. 

The event bedazzles the city with rainbows, glitter and renditions of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” each June, which has been designated as Pride Month to promote awareness for LGBTQ rights and issues. LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer sexual orientations, but queer is also used as an umbrella term for all non-heterosexual orientations.

Parading through the city alongside hundreds of fellow queer people and supportive allies, I felt that I was part of something larger than myself, something bright and hopeful. I realized why people refer to us as the LGBTQ community

But I could not help but notice that, while Colorado has come a long way in championing queer rights, inequalities remain.

Read the full story.

New group aims to help sex assault, domestic violence survivors find healing, together

John F. Russell

Advocates of Routt County is launching a new group to help survivors of sexual and domestic violence find healing. 

Healing Circles is intended for adult women who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence or sexual violence. The group will meet for 10 weeks, and meetings will kick off Wednesday, July 10. 

The group will explore tools survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence can use to work through challenges.

Read the full story.

The creators of the Good Night Out program are hoping they can make the bar scene in Steamboat Springs, and eventually all of Routt County, a little safer with awareness, training and better reporting.
John F. Russell

Part 6

Making Steamboat nightlife safer: Bar owners ready new program to combat drug-facilitated sexual assault

As owner of Old Town Pub in Steamboat Springs, Sean Regan is familiar with Ski Town USA’s famed nightlife and has seen both its good and bad sides.

“It’s awesome, and there’s a reason that we do this,” said Regan, who has owned Old Town Pub since 2016. “They (bar patrons) want to have a story they can tell and usually those stories are a lot better when they involve laughter, music, dancing, good times and goofball antics.

“There’s a dark side, of course,” Regan added. “But our goal is to do everything we can to keep that dark side from showing up.”

Read the full story.

Steamboat’s service industry works to raise awareness, prevent sexual assault

Security these days goes behind simply locking doors.
John F. Russell

As general manager of the Holiday Inn in Steamboat Springs, Barbara Robinson has been through training sessions that address sexual assault and human trafficking, and she has had to make difficult phone calls to guest’s hotel rooms for uncomfortable conversations aimed at keeping guests safe.

Robinson said her staff is mindful of all activities and is prepared to help guests with the proper reporting if a guest comes forward and lets them know there is a problem, and she personally has broken up bad situations when they occur.

Read the full story.

Where and how: Cases of sexual assault in Steamboat are often facilitated by drugs or alcohol

In the first half of 2019, 11 cases of sexual assault were reported to the Steamboat Springs Police Department, and in a typical year, there will be anywhere from 12 to 30 reports, according to Detective Sam Silva.

Read the full story.

John F. Russell

Part 7

Preventing sexual assault: Schools seek to educate, create safe reporting environments

Navigating the journey of sexual identity and discovery isn’t an easy one. 

Those explorations often begin or intensify in high school, which comes with innumerable added pressures — pressure to be accepted, to be liked, to be beautiful, to be desirable, to be cool.

At the same time, young people may be experimenting with alcohol and drugs and finding ways to assert their independence as they socialize and participate in activities outside of school.

Read the full story.

What is considered a healthy relationship?

What constitutes a healthy relationship? And what are the warning signs a relationship is not healthy, or even dangerous?

Read the full story.

John F. Russell

Part 8

Rising above: Advocates helps sexual assault victims become survivors

The resiliency of the survivors that Marnie Christensen has served is what inspires her to keep facing the nastiest pieces of the human spirit.

Christensen coordinates volunteers and serves as a victim advocate at Advocates of Routt County. Before that, she served for 27 years as a Fort Collins police officer, including eight years as a detective within the crimes against person’s unit — the unit that investigates sexual assault.

As an advocate, and before as a cop, she says she becomes “momma bear” to a victim of sexual assault.

Read the full story.

From the editor: Series impacted those who reported on sexual assault

Journalists are trained to be objective. We strive to be fair and accurate in our reporting, and some topics we cover are more complex than others. Journalists are also human and our work can sometimes be tough and challenging, especially when tackling a serious topic like sexual assault.

Read the full story.

Stories of survival: Sexual assault victims speak out

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 4 to 7 p.m. in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave. WATCH VIDEOS FROM THE EVENT

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

In Our Shoes: The Exhibit

Steamboat Pilot & Today’s In Our Shoes project included an art exhibit featuring over 50 pairs of shoes created by local community members in response to their experience with sexual assault.

See the full exhibit here.

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

Share your thoughts: Opinions on the series

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

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