Education key to preventing sexual assault

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On the 'Net

To view online sex offender registries, click on the Routt County Sheriff's Office registry at www.co.routt.co.u... the Steamboat Springs Police Department registry at www.ci.steamboat.... (click on 'Departments,' 'Public Safety,' 'Police Admin,' then 'Sex Offenders'); or the Colorado Bureau of Investigation registry at sor.state.co.us.

— Knowledge of a sex offender's identity is just one step in community safety, Routt County law enforcement officers say.

"The best thing for a community is to be aware of the sexually violent predators and the sexual offenders and to make their children aware," said Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae.

Rae, Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall and officials with victims advocacy groups and the state all had the same message for 200 residents who attended a March 23 meeting held to make residents aware that 45-year-old Ronald Eugene Noel is living in the county. Noel is classified as a sexually violent predator. He is a transient living in Milner.

Noel was classified as a sexually violent predator in Oregon after he failed to register as a sex offender. He was convicted of a felony sex crime involving a girl younger than 8.

During the meeting, law enforcement officers and other personnel shared statistics regarding sex offenders, how to access online local, state and national sexual offender registries and what to do with that information.

Debbie Sternholm, a representative with the Colorado Department of Public Safety's Division of Criminal Justice, said parents should have age-appropriate conversations with children regarding registered sex offenders in their communities, but avoid too much detail.

"In this day and age, there is no 'typical' sex offender," she said. "Sex offenders are from all walks of life, all backgrounds and ethnicities and religions. It's not just the old man in the trench coat anymore."

Sternholm said most sex offenders are male and typically assault children they know.

"That's why, as a community, you have to be the eyes and ears to keep your communities safe," she said.

By the numbers

There are eight registered sexual offenders and one sexually violent predator living in Routt County. Four of those registered sex offenders live in Steamboat Springs and one is in the Routt County Jail facing prosecution for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage boy.

The crimes the sex offenders were convicted of include indecent exposure, sexual assault on a child, first-degree sexual abuse, aggravated incest, third-degree assault on a child by someone in a position of trust and lewd acts with a child. There are no juvenile sex offenders living in the county.

In comparison, there are 30 registered sex offenders living in Moffat County and 10,488 registered sex offenders living in Colorado. Noel is one of 44 registered sexually violent predators living in Colorado. Twenty-two of those are either incarcerated or have been deported, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Routt County has a relatively low number of sex offenders living in the county compared to other areas of the state, Rae said.

"If there are over 10,000 (sex offenders) in Colorado, and only nine live here, that's a pretty small number per capita," he said.

Because there are so few registered sex offenders living in the city, the Steamboat Springs Police Department is afforded the luxury of monitoring those sex offenders monthly.

"Every month we have an officer physically go to every address where a registered sex offender lives to make contact with that person," he said. "If we had 1,000 (sex offenders) living here, we obviously wouldn't be able to do that."

Sternholm said only about 16 percent of sex offenders are known to law enforcement which means most are never detected.

Sex offenders are required to update their registration quarterly or annually, and most are on probation or parole that regulates where they are allowed to go and whom they are allowed to see.

Teach your children well

Educating children about the danger of sexual predation can be a difficult topic, but education can never begin too early, Rae said.

"Children should feel comfortable coming to a parent if he or she is beginning to feel uncomfortable around a relative or a family friend," he said. "Helping your child understand it's OK to come forward to talk about something is the biggest key to prevention."

Sex offenders also are using more intricate and believable scenarios to lure children into situations where they can be assaulted, he said.

"It's not just the 'I have candy' anymore. It's people actually holding an empty leash claiming to have lost a dog," he said. "Children need to be aware of all of that, too."

Rae and Wall are hopeful to bring age-appropriate education to the schools in Routt County.

"We're united in that sense," Wall said. "I think a joint effort is appropriate because we have schools in the city and in the county. It's a hot topic, but people need to be informed."

City and county sex offender registries are available for viewing online as well as the police department and Sheriff's Office lobby.

-To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboapilot.com

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