Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Southern Colorado Ranks High on Sex Assault Rates

From: KOAA5

Surprising numbers about rapes have local police on high alert this April, which happens to be Sexual Assault Awareness month. Southern Colorado has the highest rate of sexual assaults in the State, and yet it's one of the most difficult crimes for victims to report.

One thing local police are honing in on is the fact that most sexual assaults in our area are committed while the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That can turn a fun night out into a night a rape victim never wants to re-live.

"There's feelings ranging of shame to sheer disappointment in themselves," said Sgt. Steve Noblitt, Supervisor of the CSPD Sex Assault and Domestic Violence Unit.

Noblitt said whether a victim is drugged without their knowing, or is consuming alcohol themselves, they should never blame themselves.

"I want to be clear about this, anybody at any time should be able to go out and have a good time and regardless of their level of incapacitation shouldn't have to worry about somebody coming along and taking advantage of them," explained Noblitt.

The sexual assault investigators at Colorado Springs Police said they're focused on the suspects' actions, not the victims'.

"We believe our victims, and we're going to hold the offenders accountable," added Noblitt.

But why is it that Southern Colorado has such a high rate of sexual assault, on par with much larger cities like Denver?

"Well the numbers can be difficult to look at and to understand," answered Pueblo Police Department's Public Information Officer, Sgt. Eric Gonzales.

The issue, and source of confusion, can be found in the different ways of reporting rape and the different agencies. FBI crime statistics for example show Colorado Springs had more reported rapes than Denver in 2012, with 203 in the Springs and 200 in Denver. Then in 2013, the FBI showed Colorado Springs still close to Denver, with 180 reported rapes in the Springs and 216 in Denver.

As for Pueblo, the FBI had Pueblo with 12 reported rapes in 2012, and 84 in 2013. But those numbers can't necessarily be compared.

"The FBI recently made changes to their reporting, they took one category of rape and changed it into three categories," explained Gonzales.

Before 2013, the FBI only counted traditional forcible rape, meaning a man technically could not be a victim of rape. Now the FBI includes sodomy and rape with an object in its reporting.

"So it's going to look like the numbers went up, the numbers were actually always there," said Gonzales.

In fact, Gonzales said if you include all of the rape categories, Pueblo had 151 reported rapes in 2012, and 131 in 2013. That's not a low number though for a city of roughly 100,000 people. Colorado Springs has an even higher yearly average according to its own reporting.

"We have 270 to 300 cases where people are reporting that they were sexually assaulted," answered Noblitt.

But police and victim advocates explained that the numbers don't necessarily mean more people are getting sexually assaulted.

"I'm hoping that more people are learning about sexual assault and are willing to come forward," said Gloriean Ortiz with Pueblo Rape Crisis Services.

Noblitt said if anything, more numbers and accurate reporting could mean more victims in Southern Colorado feel secure in reporting the sexual assault.

"We've created a pretty good environment in Colorado Springs where victims of sex assault get a lot of attention and we put a lot of effort into understanding their circumstances," said Noblitt.

Both police departments use public awareness as a tool to help victims come forward.

For more information on seeking help if you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, click on the links below:

Pueblo Rape Crisis Services, Hotline: 719-549-0549

TESSA, Hotline: 719-633-3819