"Jennifer" can't remember losing her virginity.
It was the last day of her sophomore year in high school, and she joined all her friends for a year-end party. "It was my first party," she said. "And I wasn't going to drink."
She did drink. She said she had one margarita. That's the last thing she can remember.
She woke up in a camper far from the party. She saw dried blood and bruises and felt pain. "While I was passed out, I lost my virginity," she said. "I know because I could feel it. But I didn't know where I was."
She didn't tell her boyfriend what happened. She didn't have to. Months later, she learned he was there. She discovered he bragged to his friends that he drugged her and had sex with her.
That was May 2001. Nearly a year later, she summoned the courage to tell her mother. By that time, Jennifer's family had left the small town where she spent most of her life, the town where she was raped. The family had started a new life in Steamboat Springs.
"When I told my mom, she wanted me to report it to the police," she said. "But I was afraid of what (my ex-boyfriend) and my friends might think of me.
"I was afraid they wouldn't believe me, and I was afraid of ruining (my ex-boyfriend's) life."
And, she said, she didn't want to relive it again.
It's easy to write off Jennifer's case as something that happened somewhere else, but the results of a recent survey at Steamboat Springs High School, combined with the number of girls walking into Advocates Against Battering and Abuse, show a disturbing trend.
Teen girls in Steamboat report being sexually assaulted at a rate higher than their peers nationwide.
In a survey last year, twenty-three percent of Steamboat Springs High School girls said they had been sexually assaulted. High school counselor Joan Allsberry defined "sexual assault" as "unwanted sexual intercourse." Twenty-seven percent of the girls said they told no one about the assault.
Statistically, one in four women will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime, said Diane Moore, the executive director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse. "It's disturbing that our high school students have already exceeded that number. This is a huge problem in our community."
But it's a huge problem that does not show up on the official radar.
According to the Yampa Valley Partners Community Indicators Project 2002/2003 report, there were no arrests for rape in 2000, even though Advocates reported a marked increase in women who said they had been victims of sexual assault.
Advocates served 64 sexual assault victims last year. Thirty-one of those were 19 or younger. Two of them were males.
"There was a huge spike in sexual assaults among high school students last year," said Steamboat Springs Police Department director of public safety J.D. Hays. "But our records showed nothing."
No one reported.
"If they don't report," Hays said, "that behavior is reinforced (in the rapists) and they won't be afraid to do it again. Those guys who did this last year are now in college and they are probably doing the same thing."
In Moore's experience, Steamboat girls said they were not reporting for three reasons:
n They feared they wouldn't be believed.
n They feared they would be treated poorly because their attackers often were popular teens.
n Finally, they simply wanted to forget the incident ever occurred.
Jennifer was a junior her first year at Steamboat Springs High School. She was withdrawn and depressed and didn't make many friends. "Not a day went by that I didn't think about the rape or suicide," she said.
In March of 2002, Steamboat Springs High School hosted a schoolwide event to encourage understanding between genders. At the event, school counselor Allsberry told a story she had put out of her mind for years.
Allsberry is almost 40 years old, but the wounds from being raped when she was 20 still felt fresh.
Allsberry's story was a turning point for girls such as Jennifer. Several decided to tell Allsberry what had happened to them.
Allsberry encouraged Jennifer to attend an Advocates support group for teenage girls who have been victims of sexual assault.
Jennifer was surprised to see so many girls her age at the meetings. They told her she was safe. They told her that nothing she said would leave the room. They told her to tell them what happened.
"I didn't want to open it up again," she said. "But I did. I told my story. I was really scared. I was crying. Then they shared their stories, and I didn't feel alone anymore."
The support group formed in February of 2002. The number of girls who came into Advocates and into Allsberry's office saying that they had been raped was growing.
"It was like there was an epidemic," Allsberry said. "They started coming to me one after another."
The group started with four girls and soon 12 were attending. "They found out about it by word of mouth," Allsberry said. "It was crazy. Almost every week there were new people."
The meetings were emotional.
"It was like we had a ball and chain around our ankle," Allsberry said. "Those meetings were so heavy and dark."
"Katie" attended the group every week. At 17, she has been dealing with the memory of her rape for more than a year.
It happened in a hotel room in Denver on a trip with her best friend. Everything was fun until her friend's boyfriend's friend announced that he was staying the night. He wanted to sleep in the same bed with Katie.
Katie is shy and sweet. She kept her eyes down as she told her story.
She said that the other couple left the hotel room. She said the other boy stayed and wanted to have sex with her. She said "no." She said he didn't listen.
When Katie finally got the courage to talk about what happened, Allsberry volunteered to take her to Denver.
"We went to where it happened," Allsberry said. "(Katie and her friend) were so naÃive. They didn't know where the hotel was or anywhere else they had been. We drove for hours and finally (Katie) recognized a fast food restaurant.
"Then she realized we were getting close and she started to get quiet and she started tearing up. Then she said, 'This is it. This is the place.'"
Reporting to police
Katie is the only girl in the support group to report her rape to police.
"None of the girls felt it would turn out positively for them," Allsberry said. "They thought they wouldn't be supported by their peers because many of the boys were popular kids from our school. They were athletes. Teachers liked them."
A couple of girls came close to going to the police, but ultimately could not bring themselves to do so.
"I think it was easier for her to report because it happened in Denver," Allsberry said.
While she was in Denver, she went to the police with her story, but they were skeptical. "The cop told me that some girls sleep with guys and then regret it the next day," Katie said.
Since there was no physical evidence of the rape that happened months before, "they couldn't do anything." To some degree, Katie was relieved the police couldn't do anything. "I didn't want to see him again."
Questioning the story
The officer's reaction to Katie's reported rape is common.
When seniors presented the high school SteamboatCARES survey results to their peers, explaining that almost a quarter of female students said they had been victims of sexual assault, "invariably, someone raised their hand and asked, 'how do we know they are telling the truth?'" Allsberry said.
"People always say that women wrongly accuse, but sexual assault is not out of proportion to any other crime in being wrongly reported," Allsberry said.
The difference between rape and other crimes, Moore said, is that rape victims often are blamed.
"A girl will go to a party, she will be drinking and she will get raped," Moore said. "People will say that she shouldn't have been drinking. No wonder they don't report. I don't know if I would."
There is never a time when a girl deserves to be raped, she said. Even if she was drunk. Even if she dressed provocatively.
"Somehow, we let the boys get off. We don't hold the males responsible for their behavior," Moore said. "We act like males don't have the ability or the competence to make good decisions."
This problem will start to go away, she said, when society holds men responsible for their actions.
Hard to understand
Jennifer has never been able to figure out why her ex-boyfriend did what he did, "but I think about it constantly."
It couldn't have been the sex, she said. "I was just dead on the bed. It could have been that he got pleasure knowing he was hurting me."
Katie asks herself the same question. Why did he do this to me? "Some people say, 'She must have been dressed provocatively,' but I was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. That couldn't be it," she said.
Allsberry guessed that the boy's behavior had less to do with Katie's actions and more to do with what he'd been taught about women.
"Kids don't live in a vacuum. They pick up their attitudes from family and from society," Allsberry said. "I think a lot of it is about gender and what's OK in their homes about how women are treated.
"It's also about self-esteem. Deep down they don't feel that great about themselves."
Beginning to heal
Jennifer graduated from Steamboat Springs High School on Saturday. Exactly two years after she was raped, she is finally starting to heal.
"It's only in the last month that I've started to feel like a normal person," she said. "I'm happy. I had good grades and I've made friends. Slowly, it gets easier to talk about what happened and not cry.
"This time last year, I thought it was my fault. Now I know that it wasn't. I think I'm a stronger person for making it through this."