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Sexual assault most likelyto be committed by acquaintance

Lu Snyder

At 6 p.m. today at the Summit Community Center in Frisco, AVA is offering a free community education/volunteer training for residents. Two guest speakers from the WINGS foundation (who work with adult survivors of sexual abuse) will give a presentation on sexual assault.

Hotline: Call Advocates for Victims of Assault at (970) 668-3906

SUMMIT COUNTY – Aqua might be the color of the sky on sunny days, but this month, it’s the color chosen to show support for sexual assault victims.

April is sexual assault awareness month, and this is the fourth year the state governor has proclaimed it so, said Barbara Avent, media coordinator for Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA).

The goal of this year’s national event is to hold offenders accountable and let victims know they are not to blame, Avent said.

In Colorado, one in four women, and one in 17 men, have been the victims of sexual assault. An estimated 44 percent of sexual assault victims are girls under age 18.

As of April 10, 15 registered sexual offenders were living in Summit County, according to Summit County Sheriff’s Office records. Those are people who have been charged and convicted of sexual assault, said the sheriff’s public information officer, Jill Berman. And assailants don’t always register with police, as required by law, which means there could be more living here, she said.

Of convicted offenders, 15 to 50 percent are known to commit sexual assault crimes again, according to a press release from Advocates for Victims of Assault (AVA)

Though 85 percent of rapes nationally are committed by acquaintances of the victims, in Summit County that percentage increases to 98 or 99, said Melody Dunn, assistant director of AVA.

The likelihood of being sexually assaulted by a complete stranger – an assailant jumping out from behind the bushes or crawling in one’s window, for example – are slim compared to the chance the assault will be committed by an acquaintance, friend or family member, Dunn said.

“A lot of people don’t understand what acquaintance means,” she said. “Someone you meet in the bar is an acquaintance.”

And when the assailant is an acquaintance, the victim is more likely to ignore the warning signs and resulting questions, such as, “”Is this a violation?’ “Are they going to act on it?’ “Am I imagining this?’ “Is this going to stop?'” Dunn said.

Both the high incidence of sexual assault and the chance of repeat offenders are the impetus for this year’s sexual assault awareness month, Avent said.

“People think it’s a one-time incidence – “It happened five years ago, get over it,'” Dunn said.

But the effects on the victim are “far-reaching,” Avent said. They can include severe and long-term depression, and various physical and emotional ailments.

“Speaking out is the first step to healing,” Avent said, which is why it’s important to believe the victims and for victims to understand they are not to blame.

The victim needs support when they talk about the assault, resources to help them heal and to hold the offender accountable, she added.

Dunn stressed it is particularly important that high-schoolers and college students – especially those who might be in situations in which they are intoxicated – to understand the warning signs and to know the resources are available for support in Summit County.

“Trust your gut feelings,” Dunn said. “Is the person trying to isolate or intoxicate you? Are they invading your space and ignoring your rights and wishes? Those are all warning signs that something is not quite right.”

In the event one is sexually assaulted, Dunn said, it’s necessary to save all possible evidence; don’t shower, brush your teeth or clean your fingernails, and never throw away or wash the clothes that were worn during the assault.

AVA offers 24-hour confidential support, information and referrals to victims of a crime or those who have experienced trauma, Dunn said.

Lu Snyder can be reached at 970-668-3998 x203 or lsnyder@summitdaily.com


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