School officials, parents look at teen sex issues

Forum a springboard to start dialogue


— Parent Tim Greene did not want to know the details of the recent incident of sexual misconduct reported at Steamboat Springs Middle School. He wanted to know how to prevent it from happening again.

Greene and other parents attended a forum on teen sexuality Thursday night. Greene questioned school administrators about what they were doing in light of the recent incident.

Principal Tim Bishop said as a short-term resolution, all areas or classrooms without adult supervision will be locked.

"We have locked everything so we don't have an area where something can happen," he said.

He said the long-term goal is focused on educating students on appropriate conduct, reading each others' signals and how to report and handle an incident.

"We've got to get that culture where (students) feel very comfortable you see something, you are going to know where to go immediately," Bishop said.

Sheriff John Warner said the alleged improper touching was initially only thought to be a single incident. He said from the investigation, he is unsure if the incident is isolated and cannot publicly comment on the incident until the investigation is complete.

"Colorado law ties our hands," Warner said.

Some community members did not want to see the recent incident brushed over as school administrators explained the forum was not to be about the recent incident.

"Silence is the worst enemy of the victim. Everyone needs to be together," Lila Henry said.

Henry urged people to be more open and willing to discuss crimes of sexual assault as it helps the victim be less afraid to express his or her feelings and seek help.

Diane Moore of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse said 27 sexual assaults have been reported in 12th grade and under during the past year. She said the number has more than doubled from the year before.

"That, to me, is incredibly alarming," she said.

J.D. Hayes, director of public safety services in Steamboat Springs, said most of the sexual assaults that occurred over the past year haven't been reported to police. He said students are terrified to come forward, and as a result, the aggressors are not caught.

Hayes said a majority of the sexual assaults were associated with alcohol. He said some parents feel it is OK to supply alcohol and provide a "safe" environment for students to party.

"It is not OK," he said. "Young people cannot handle alcohol."

Hayes said his comments pertain primarily to the high school population, but middle school is a very vulnerable time for students to start experimenting with alcohol and drugs.

The effects of peer pressure, school counselors admitted, is astounding on middle school students.

"The key is the communication piece because it is amazing what (the students) are talking to each other about," Bishop said.

He said the eighth-graders met in groups Thursday to discuss various topics relating to sexual assault, such as the line between flirting and sexual harassment, the behavior portrayed in popular culture in comparison to acceptable behavior in real life, respect and how "no" means "no." Bishop said discussions will also take place at the sixth- and seventh-grade levels.

"The biggest thing we are trying to do is use this as a springboard for starting a dialogue," he said.

Health teacher Ann Keating said the middle school library has a list of books available to parents interested in learning how to handle issues of sex, drugs and alcohol regarding their child.

School psychologist Ray Koch said he has conveyed to middle school students that if something happens, they need to keep approaching adults until they get someone to help them.

He said adults who respond to a student's call for help will reinforce the overall trust and willingness students have to report an incident.


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