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

In today’s world, keeping an eye on guest’s safety goes beyond simply locking the doors.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — 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 guests’ hotel rooms for uncomfortable conversations aimed at keeping guests safe.

“We are very lucky to live in Steamboat, but we also understand that it is happening everywhere,” Robinson said of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault. “From a corporate standpoint (InterContinental Hotels Group), we have a lot of required training on those topics. We close our bar and restaurant early, so as not to have a late-night scene.”

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.

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“It all goes together,” she said. “If we hear, or were to hear, an argument, we call the room. I have called a room and asked the woman if she felt safe. I’ve had to ask her if she would come out and speak with me to make sure everything is alright.”

Lisel Petis, executive director of Advocates of Routt County, said human trafficking might seem like a distant issue in a relatively small town like Steamboat Springs, but because of the tourist industry and the number of big events that come into town, she said it can be a problem.

“We absolutely get trafficking in Steamboat,” Petis said. “It has less to do with the highways and more to do with the tourist industry. When you see tourism, prostitution is sure to follow.”

Petis said she has heard of girls and boys being brought up from Denver for a big weekend.

“A lot of people think of sex trafficking as someone being kidnapped from Mexico and brought over the border and forced into the sex trade,” Petis said. “Really, it is just any type of behavior that is requiring somebody to be in that trade. We see people from Denver being forced to come up to Steamboat and partake in that.”

Loryn Kasten said the issue of sexual assault is something that Steamboat Resort, one of Steamboat’s largest employers with 1,800 employed in the winter and 400 year-round, also takes very seriously.

“The resort previously did not have any formal sexual assault training,” Kasten said. “We are in the process of working with (District Attorney) Matt Karzen and Lisel Petis to create training and have more dedicated services.”

Kasten said the resort, even without specific programming and training in place, has been following best practices and has assisted those who have been assaulted and choose to report.

“We absolutely take it seriously,” Kasten added.

Petis said Advocates began working with the resort last year to get some training to all employees.

“Some of it is for their own safety and concern, but we also are just trying to train people to be good neighbors with bystander intervention — so if you see something going on, what can you do to help?” Petis said.

Petis said it is a great opportunity because Steamboat Resort offers a large audience of employees.

“It’s really amazing to get that information to all those people,” Petis said. “That amount of awareness can really make a difference.”

Rex Brice, with Rex’s Family of Restaurants, employs about 300 people in Steamboat Springs and offers management programs that address every thing from sexual discrimination to sexual harassment.

“Some of our management team has gone to training put on by the Colorado Restaurant Association to know and understand that a little better than we used to,” Brice said. “We do formal training for the management team and then the management team is responsible for passing that down through the ranks.”

Brice said he closes his bars down at 10 p.m. to avoid the late-night bar scene.

“We specifically decided a long time ago to pull back and not be a late-night restaurant for those reasons,” Brice said. “We did not want to be a part of, or promoting, heavy drinking.”

Petis said sexual assault, and in particular drug-facilitated sexual assault, is more prominent in late-night establishments.

“The reason we targeted the restaurant and bar industry is because the No. 1 type of sexual assault we see is drug-facilitated sexual assault,” Petis said. “It’s usually patron-on-patron, so a lot of the training we are doing is for the service industry to step in and take a role and empowering them to do something to stop it.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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