Valley's "small town" nature prevents sexual assault reporting

Sep 3, 2015

Victims of sexual assault mostly don't report to police, partly because of the small town nature of the Roaring Fork Valley.
Credit Creative Commons/Flickr/Scott Davidson

Snowmass Village Police continue to investigate a report last week of a sexual assault. A woman walking home from a friend’s house was reportedly attacked. The investigation is ongoing but few details are emerging. Law enforcement says such a sensitive crime needs a certain level of privacy, especially in a small town. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

Reporter: "The occurrence of sexual assault crimes like this, how common is it that your department handles such cases?"

Chief Brian Olson: "Looking back at statistics, we investigate two cases a year."

Snowmass Village Police Chief Brian Olson says the last reported sexual assault was four years ago.

"I think the victim struggles with not wanting to be outed in public," he says. "We are a small community and when a crime like this hits the press and the public knowledge, it’s hard to remain anonymous."

He says information is only released in such cases when there’s either a value to the public or the investigation.

Linda Consuegra is Assistant Chief for the Aspen Police Department.

"When you look at any of the incidents we’ve had in our community or nearby communities, they hit the papers. We are a small community. If you give a quick description of where it could have happened, where that person works, or the age (of the victim), all of sudden, within 10 minutes, you know who that victim is."

The Aspen Department took four reports of sexual assault last year and one this year.

Across the country, 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police, according to the national anti-sexual assault organization RAINN. The small town fear of recognition doesn’t help. Consuegra wants to change the lack of reporting, even if the victim doesn’t go the police.

"It is very important that they do go forward at least to take care of themselves, either in a medical way or to seek counseling," she says.

One organization that serves victims of domestic violence and sex assault in the Roaring Fork Valley is Response. Jill Gruenberg is program director for the organization. She sees just how under-reported this crime is.

"We work with many victims who tell us that they have recently been sexually assaulted or sexually assaulted in the past and that that is not something they have ever reported to law enforcement," she says.

She says a new law in Colorado gives victims three choices around reporting a sexual assault.

"One is a law enforcement report, one is a medical report and the new one created with this legislation is anonymous reporting."

With anonymous reporting, the victim can get medical attention without filing a police report.