Police, advocacy officials encourage self-education at meeting

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— Although Centennial Hall was a little quieter than a group of law enforcement, mental health and advocacy officials would have liked, the message they had for the community was heard loud and clear.

Education, prevention and minimizing risk are some of the answers in keeping Steamboat Springs and its residents safe.

Thursday night's meeting, which was hosted by the Steamboat Springs Police Dep-artment and Advocates Against Battering and Abuse, covered a variety of topics relating to sexual crimes including date rape drugs, sexual assaults, sexual offenders and how to best be protected against being a victim of such crimes.

"If someone has the ability, desire and opportunity to commit a crime, the only thing we have control over is removing ourselves from being the opportunity," said police Capt. Joel Rae.

Det. Capt. Bob Del Valle said one of the most important things about personal safety is minimizing certain risks associated with crimes, especially sexual crimes, such as alcohol and drug consumption and being aware of one's surroundings.

"The No. 1 contributing factor we find in sexual assault cases is alcohol and drugs, things that are very prevalent in our society," he said. "Those substances open the door for inappropriate behavior and consequent crimes."

Police advised adolescent and adult women to never go out alone, go home alone or consume alcoholic beverages that weren't prepared or purchased in front of you as some ways to be safe in social settings.

Diane Moore, executive director of Advocates, said teaching young men to respect women is just as important as teaching women to be safe.

"We need to keep sitting down with our daughters, but we need to sit down with our sons as well," she said. "Teaching our boys respect is like having the elephant in the room. We talk about prevention but we still have boys growing up raping."

Steamboat Mental Health director Tom Gangel said personal safety education of any kind must start early, especially in a time that promotes desensitization and recklessness in the media.

"A lot of parents ask, 'How do you teach your kids to minimize risk?'" he said. "That's the hard part, and I wish I had an easy answer, but the best way is to teach by being honest. Teach your children to trust their guts, the tingler will tell you when something is wrong."

Although the panel stressed the importance of education and being responsible, they also warned residents about becoming too paranoid about victimization or making lifestyles changes out of fear.

"Living in this world, it's a dangerous place - plane crashes, cancer, lightning, drowning. We can't live paranoid, we can only try to minimize our risks," Del Valle said. "If we lived paranoid, we might as well just die because life wouldn't be worth living."

Officials agreed that community members often want the "magical answer" in regards to safety.

"Society wants a magical answer," Rae said. "There is no answer to how you or your loved ones will never, ever be a victim but what we can collectively do by bonding as a community is change the attitude of our society."

-To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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