April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. First observed in 2001, the purpose is to promote awareness of sexual assault and campaign for its prevention. This year's theme is "It's time ... to talk about it." And while it's something we don't want to think about actually occurring in our community, it is something we do need to face - and talk about. There are many myths which exist regarding sexual assault. I would like to talk about a few of those myths and the actual facts.
Myth #1: Sexual assault doesn't happen here. Fact: It does happen here. In 2011 there were 19 felony sexual assault cases filed in the Fifth Judicial District, which is comprised of Summit, Eagle, Lake and Clear Creek counties. Eight of those cases involved adult victims, while the remaining 11 involved child victims. Out of the 19 total cases, nine occurred in Eagle County. In the State of Colorado, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 17 men are sexually assaulted during their lifetime.
Myth #2: Those 19 felony cases are the only sexual assault cases that occurred in the jurisdiction. Fact: Probably not. Statistics show only about 1 in 6 sexual assault cases are ever reported. In those cases reported, the perpetrator is only caught about half of the time. And even when he's caught, there's still a 20 percent chance there will not be enough evidence to prosecute.
Myth #3: Sexual assaults are only perpetrated by strangers. Fact: Studies indicate that up to 70 percent of women know their attacker. When the victim is a female student in college, that number climbs to up to 90 percent, with about half of those attacks occurring during a date. When the sex assault victim is a juvenile, the number climbs to 93 percent.
Myth #4: Victims of sexual assault will always report the crime immediately. Fact: Initially, as previously stated, only 16 percent of sexual assault cases are reported at all. Of those reported, 25 percent are reported more than 24 hours after the assault. The majority of reports are not made to police but instead are made as an outcry to a friend, who then convinces them to report the assault to the police. The biggest reasons sexual assault victims do not want to report a crime is embarrassment and shame, fear of their name going public and fear of her family and friends finding out and how they will react.
Myth #5: A victim of sexual assault will fight back and incur injuries. Fact: Studies show only about 1 in 5 women fight back. Most victims cite being confused, being afraid of dying or being seriously injured, or just engaging in a self-preservation mode (appeasing the offender, for example) as reasons why they don't fight back. As a result, 70 percent of women do not incur physical injuries as a result of their assault.
To learn more about the misconceptions involving sexual assault, you are invited to attend the presentation of "The Myths and Facts of Sexual Assault," being sponsored by the Summit County Violence Protection Team. It will be given at Summit High School April 19 at 7 p.m. As part of the presentation, students from the school will perform scenes from the play "Until Someone Wakes Up," which was written from interviews of sex assault survivors.
Why should you come? Because it's time to talk about it.
Scott W. Turner is an assistant district attorney with the 5th Judicial District in Breckenridge. He is also a candidate for the office of district attorney.