Behind the Headlines

Addressing sexual assault

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Q. On average, how many sexual assaults are reported to Advocates Against Battering and Abuse each year? What is the age group of victims who are at risk? What percentage of reported cases involves a suspect who the victim knows?

A. In the past three years, Advocates has experienced an increase in reported sexual assaults to our agency. An average of 30 sexual assault survivors have contacted our agency for services, resources and support in reporting to law enforcement. Although most sexual assault victims are female, some of the survivors have been males. The ages have ranged from 13 to 50 years old. Sexual violence has included voyeurism, sexual harassment, fondling, and rape by both stranger and non-stranger assailants. Already this year, the agency has responded to eight victims of sexual assault.

The age group of victims who are at the most risk for sexual assaults are females ages 14 to 24 years of age. Locally, the percentage of victims who know the perpetrator is usually close to 98 percent. National research on sexual assault indicates that most assaults, typically 85 percent or more, are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, In the past few years, Advocates and law enforcement agencies have received an average of one or two reports of stranger assault or attempted assault each year.

Q. What is the role of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse when a sexual assault is reported? Does Advocates have any role in reporting assaults to law enforcement authorities?

A. Advocates is a private non-profit agency that provides 24-hour crisis response to all victims. Our role is to provide immediate, confidential support and crisis counseling to sexual assault victims. It is important for the survivor to gain a sense of control of her surroundings and to receive information about her options. Advocates provides confidential services and does not report a sexual assault to law enforcement if the victim chooses to not do so. This must be the choice of the survivor. Our agency is very supportive of reporting to our law enforcement agencies and believes that it can begin the process of healing.

Q. In the past five months, a rash of sexual assaults among teens have been reported to Advocates. What is alarming about these cases being reported, and why do you think teens are reluctant to report these incidents to authorities?

A. The alarming fact is that our young women are being assaulted in our community. The total disregard for these young women in each of the reported situations is disturbing. The males who have assaulted have used power and control, and sometimes manipulation, to victimize.

Teens are reluctant to report for several reasons. Once they report the incident it is very likely that all of their peers will know about the assault and will discuss it throughout the school. The effects of date and acquaintance assaults are no less severe than with any other kind of sexual assault. Victims may blame themselves more harshly for having trusted or agreed to spend time with the assailant. They may also be confused about what happened and reluctant to report the crime for fear of being disbelieved or admonished by friends or individuals. The reality is that people are more likely to blame the victim when she/he knew or even dated the perpetrator.

Q. How prevalent are sexual assaults in Routt County? Are the communities in the county fully aware of the issue and what is the best way for the public to address this issue?

A. Considering the reported assaults in the past six months, our agency is experiencing an increase in all types of sexual assaults among females and males and ages from 13 to adult.

I don't believe that our communities are fully aware of the issues that face our youth and young adults. Law enforcement agencies and Advocates have received numerous contacts in the past two years from young women questioning if they had been slipped a drug. Some experienced attempted or completed assaults. Many sexual assaults include use of alcohol at parties where young women are more vulnerable. The issues of sexual assault are difficult to imagine, to discuss, and to acknowledge. Sexual assault is a community problem. We must begin to address cultural attitudes about women, about power and about victim-blaming. The public can become more informed about the issues. It will take all of us to identify ways to make our communities safer and to support victims when they choose to report. Advocates initiated a Violence Prevention-High School Peer Education program five years ago in all three school districts. Teens are trained about these issues and present in the classrooms. This has been a very successful program in educating, as well as encouraging teens to consider reporting to our agency.

Q. Recently, Steamboat Springs High School officials have formed a group that consists of representatives from law enforcement agencies and civic and prevention organizations. What role do you think this group can play in addressing teen sexual assaults?

A. The positive outcome of this group can be the collaboration by these agencies to increase awareness of the issues, to involve youth in the discussions, and to reach out to parents and adults in the community.

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