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August 20-26, 2008
• Back to Student Guide ’09 A-Z
Last year's sexual assaults increase awareness
by Marissa Hermanson
At 12:45 a.m. last Halloween, while costumed CU students were partying throughout Boulder, a young woman clad in her ladybug costume was gang-raped by four men in an alley on her walk home from a party. Since then, there have been six reported assaults in Boulder — four of which were sexual. These alarming attacks happened to six young women within 35 days.
The number of assaults in Boulder have remained consistent with previous years, according to the Boulder Police Department (BPD). There hasn’t been an increase in assaults in Boulder, but the high frequency and unusual nature of the six assaults that occurred last fall did cause panic.
“Because of the media attention and the really frightening details in the Halloween case there was a heightened awareness,” says Sarah Huntley, BPD’s public information officer.
Two of the six assault cases still remain open for investigation — the Halloween incident, as well as a case where a 21-year-old woman fought off an attacker in an alley on The Hill. Both incidents involved a woman being attacked by a stranger, which is unusual. The vast majority of sexual assault victims — 73 percent — know their attackers, and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance, according Boulder’s Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA).
“The types of cases that were reported were a little different than the last year,” says Huntley. “Generally the vast majority of sexual assault cases that come through our agency are acquaintance-type situations. What we were seeing in the late fall of last year were reports that involved unknown suspects approaching women in public places, so that was a little bit different.”
Three days after the Halloween attack, a 30-year-old woman was knocked unconscious after leaving the Wild Oats on Broadway and Arapahoe Avenue. When the woman woke she found her pants undone and was unsure if she was sexually assaulted. Then in late November a young woman reported that she had been drugged at Round Midnight, a Pearl Street bar, and then taken to the Louisville/Lafayette area where she was raped. Two more attacks happened on the first weekend in December. One young woman, who was at a house party on the 3400 block of Moorehead Avenue, fell asleep in a spare bedroom where she was raped (a suspect was arrested in April). The next day, a 21-year-old woman fought off a man who tried to strangle her in an alley off 12th Street, between College and Euclid avenues.
In the past year, MESA has seen a 33 percent increase in hotline calls. MESA’s 24-hour hotline provides crisis counseling, information, referrals and advocacy. The hotline is also available for friends and family of sexual assault victims.
“We do not attribute the increase [in hotline calls] to an influx of sexual assaults in our community,” says Emily Tofte, MESA’s outreach director. “MESA saw an increase of sexual assaults being reported to law enforcement. During this period there was additional media coverage of this issue. MESA does not believe the rate of sexual assault has increased in our community.”
The rise in hotline calls are attributed to increased awareness within the Boulder community.
“The student population themselves paid attention and started taking some proactive steps to raise awareness,” says Huntley.
“When you have that heightened awareness, it’s not unusual for people to report suspicious incidents that happen that may or may not rise to the level of a crime.”
A majority of the attacks involved the victim being intoxicated, according to the BPD.
“Unfortunately these cases involved alcohol,” says Huntley. “What that does is: A) it makes victims less likely to respond to dangers around them, and then B) it makes it incredibly difficult to investigate a case — even to determine whether a crime has occurred and to try and get good suspect descriptions.”
Drugs and alcohol are the No. 1 factor that leads to date/acquaintance rape, according to MESA (cited from Greenfield, Lawrence.
“Alcohol and Crime: An Analysis of National Data on the Prevalence of Alcohol Involvement in Crime”). Many intoxicated victims say that their ability to react was impaired or that their date became sexually aggressive after drinking. Intoxicated offenders commit more than a third of the reported rapes or sexual assaults. Date and acquaintance rape usually occurs because of a lack of communication or a misunderstanding of sexual behavior, according to MESA.
The Boulder Police Department suggests taking precautions when out drinking by knowing your environment and the people around you.
“We are not in any way suggesting that the victims in these cases are responsible for what happened,” says Huntley. “Clearly the responsibility and accountability lies with the perpetrator. We want students to realize that when they drink large amounts of alcohol it can make them more vulnerable.”
BPD suggests using the buddy system by walking friends home. Make sure your friend gets in their front door and gets home safely. The University of Colorado Police Department (UCPD) also promotes the buddy system and even suggests letting your friends know your plans ahead of time.
“It’s a great idea to use a ‘buddy system’ when socializing or traveling about. Two or more friends can agree to keep an eye out for each other and intervene in the event [that] something doesn’t look right,” says UCPD’s Commander Tim McGraw. “Letting roommates or friends know of your plans and associated time expectations can be beneficial, too. Should a roommate or friend of yours be late from expected times to meet with you, call the person to see if everything is OK.”
McGraw suggests not being hesitant and calling 9-1-1 when you see suspicious activity or feel unsafe. When confronted with a sexual assault, scream and call attention to yourself for assistance. Also make note of the emergency blue light phones on campus.
“Being aware of surroundings, using NightRide, and being sure drivers are sober can enhance safety,” says McGraw. “If being followed by a suspicious person, go to a nearby place of calculated safety, such as a business, and call the police and describe the incident.”
Isabelle Thurmer, a 21-year-old CU senior, was born and raised in Boulder. She goes out to Pearl Street or The Hill about four times a week and usually takes a cab home. She has never encountered a dangerous situation while out at night, but still takes precautions.
“I usually go to a friend’s house where I know everyone,” says Thurmer. “I’ll take a cab home or walk with friends if it’s early enough.”
After last fall’s assaults Thurmer became more cautious about walking home. She stays aware of her surroundings and walks with two or three friends.
“Friends need to be buddies to each other not just in terms of driving,” says Huntley. “We always are ingrained to have a designated driver. We really think that students need to befriend one another and make sure everyone gets home safely.”
CU NightRide — 303-492-SAFE
University Police Department — 911 or 303-492-6666
CU’s Office of Victim Assistance — 303-492-8855
CU Rape and Gender Education Program (COURAGE) — 303-492-4307
Counseling at Willard 134 — 303-492-6766
Wardenburg Psychiatry Clinic — 303-492-5654
Wardenburg Student Health Center — 303-492-5101
Boulder Community Hospital — 303-440-2037
Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA) — 303-443-7300
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