Surviving sexual assault: A mother and daughter’s story

A daughter’s perspective

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As a kid who grew up skiing on Howelsen Hill and swimming in the Yampa River, I love this place. The mystical beauty of the valley coupled with the wonderful people makes a town that is arguably one of the best places in the world to grow up. However, my beloved hometown has been forever tainted in my memories by one event that happened during the summer of my freshman year of high school and the fallout that followed.

I was 14 years old and giddy about finishing my freshman year. He was 15 years old and also a member of the upcoming sophomore class. Our families had been friends for years. I had known him since we were 10, and he was and still is a very prominent member of the sports community.

I was excited to hang out with him. We were both sober, and it was the middle of the day. I thought that nothing could go wrong. He told me I was pretty, he told me everyone did it, he told me it would be quick, he physically pushed me, he forced and coerced me to perform sexual acts on him. Then he left. Within 20 minutes, he changed the course of my life.

I spent the majority of the next year in my bedroom. I had once been a girl who had perfect grades, competed regularly in sports and was very involved in the community. I honestly and truly did not think that the 20 minutes with him my freshman summer had anything to do with the missed classes and lack of interest I was suddenly experiencing.

I didn’t think it was sexual assault. I thought it was my fault. I was so ashamed.

Finally, almost exactly a year later, I told my mom what had happened. My mom was the first one to tell me what I had known deep down but had feared for the past year — what had happened to me was wrong, and it was sexual assault.

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After a whirlwind of tears, counselor conversations and questions, I decided to report. To this day, sitting in the sterile police interrogation room with a male detective and elaborating on each microscopic detail of that day is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.

After reporting, I waited to hear my attacker’s response. To my surprise, he admitted everything. I expected that a confession would result in action, however, the District Attorney said my report was untimely and, therefore, could not be taken on as a case.

Feeling betrayed and shocked, I had to keep moving forward. For me, forward meant my junior year in high school with him.

Ever since my assault, high school became hard. Academically, I still kept almost perfect grades, but socially, I lost my friends and isolated myself. He was one of the popular kids in school, and he seemed to have it all while I struggled to learn when he walked into my classes. I struggled to have fun when he was three seats away at a football game. I struggled to enjoy prom when he was dancing close enough to touch me.

At almost every high school event, he was there. Seeing him almost daily forced me to constantly relive my trauma. Even when I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, he was just a row behind me.

To my knowledge, the Steamboat Springs High School administration, or at least the school resource officer, knew about my assault, but I was never once talked to or checked on.

The high school has wonderful aspects: great teachers, many of whom I became close to at my years there, a grand campus and a gorgeous backdrop. However, in my opinion, there exists a culture that protects athletes and ignores anyone who may stand in their way. As a girl, and I can’t speak for all girls at the school, I often felt sexualized by the male students.

For me, my graduation day felt like an iron door of a prison in which I had been shackled to my abuser finally opening. Today, I am happy to report that I will be attending a great college in the fall. I have been able to compete at an international level in my chosen sport and rebuild my ties to family, friends and community.

In no way have I moved on or forgotten. I still have dark days. I still struggle. But, I have tried my best to use my story to empower others and create change.

As I said, I will forever cherish my childhood here, but I want to challenge us, as a town, to do better.

Parents, I challenge you to talk to your kids about sexual assault and make it clear that sexual assault is not OK.

Students, I challenge you to support and talk to one another.

Survivors at the high school and in town, I challenge you to stand up and speak your truth. Do not let anyone else dim your light.

And Steamboat community, I challenge you to believe survivors. I challenge us to expect more education for students, support for survivors and assistance from the school leadership surrounding sexual assault at the Steamboat Springs High School. I also challenge us to come together and support one another and talk about hard issues.

We all live in this beautiful town, and it is easy to get lost in the wildflowers and Champagne powder. However, we need to remember bad things still happen here, and it is OK to talk about them.

A mother’s perspective

My daughter graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in June, and it was a gloriously happy day. Beautiful words were spoken about the graduates, the incredible teachers and our special town. As I watched my daughter walk so graciously across the field and take her seat, I felt a very familiar heartache, and I know she felt it, too.

You see, my daughter was sexually assaulted by another high school student at the end of her freshman year, and he walked that same field and took his seat at graduation, as well. As I watched him sitting in his seat, his back to me, I wondered if his assault on my daughter even crossed his mind that day. I doubt it, and here’s why — he had no consequence to his actions. In fact, he truly got away with it.

On a rainy evening in the Safeway parking lot, my daughter told me about the assault. As you can imagine, I was shaken to my core. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever listened to in my life. The one question she kept asking me over and over again through her tears was, “Mom, do you think I’m disgusting?”

At her request, we reported the sexual assault to the police, my daughter so, so bravely telling her story in excruciating detail. The officer was kind and sensitive to her, but he said he doubted anything would come of it. And he was right.

I was told by the police that the boys’ parents were notified, and that they brought him in to meet with the same officer. According to the officer, the boy didn’t deny anything and made no excuses. In fact, he agreed with my daughter’s version of what happened — completely.

I was also told that the high school resource officer was informed of the case, and we were assured that this boy would not be allowed to retaliate against my daughter in any way, but again, no consequence.

I called several times to find out the status of the case, and over a month later, I was told that the DA decided the case was not strong enough to move forward, in part because it had been over a year since the assault. I found that sadly ironic because, in my mind, my daughter was so very brave for finding the strength to tell me so soon, instead of trying to carry that shame alone for years to come, as many victims do.

In my search to help her begin to heal from her ever-present sadness that I had been keenly aware of over the past year, I took my daughter to our progressive family health provider here in Steamboat. My daughter had given me permission to talk about the sexual assault, and I did. In fact, I told our provider the boy’s name and used the exact words “sexual assault.”

And to my shock, again, nothing happened. The provider went on talking as if I had said nothing. She didn’t ask a single question or even acknowledge the words I had spoken.

About now, you might be thinking that this couldn’t happen in your family or that maybe my daughter was promiscuous or that maybe there had been drugs or alcohol involved, so I need to give you a few more facts.

We are a “typical” Steamboat family. We’ve lived here almost 20 years, I am an engaged and loving parent and our family is very involved in this community. My daughter is a straight A student, and she had her first beer after graduation. She’s a serious student and very goal oriented. The boys’ family is also very involved in this community, and he is a popular kid, what some might call one of this community’s “athletic stars.”

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to why this boy never received a single consequence for sexually assaulting my daughter. But for my daughter’s sake, and because this did happen just the way she described it, I want you to know her consequences. She has had to see him in school every day, see him receive many accolades surrounded by friends and supporters and see him excel at being “popular,” all the while struggling since the day of the assault to simply find her worth again.

In hind-sight, I wish I had moved our family from Steamboat after the assault, but we stayed here, in the town she had grown up in. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great town, and we are lucky to live here. But that’s not enough.

I challenge this community to do better, not only as parents, but also as a school system, medical community and justice system.

Don’t just talk-the-talk Steamboat, walk-the-walk. Talk to your children about sexual assault, their right to say “no” and have that respected; their responsibility to respect a “no” and their right to speak up. Don’t laugh off comments or actions as “boys will be boys.” Hold your children accountable and make sure they experience real consequences if they make bad decisions. Get professional help for your children when they need it.

I hope the boy who sexually assaulted my daughter reads this article and begins to understand, maybe for the first time, the life-changing, sometimes crippling, impact his actions have had on my daughter and her heart and spirit.

Unfortunately, for my beautiful, sweet, kind, smart daughter, she can add “Me Too” to her list of high school experiences. But because she is such a brave, strong, young woman, I know her soul will continue to heal as she begins this next phase of her life. And I will remind her every day how brave and precious she is.

This story is being published anonymously to protect the identity of the victim.

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