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As sexual assault reports rise, Colorado organizations struggle to meet survivors’ needs

As sexual assault reports rise, Colorado organizations struggle to meet survivors' needs

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, community based sexual assault and rape crisis programs across Colorado are struggling to meet the needs of survivors.

Daily Camera

Janine D’Anniballe, executive director of Moving to End Sexual Assault, said limited funding means the agency has been unable to expand beyond its five full-time employees. She is pictured here with the comfort dog, Fievel, in her Lafayette office.

Erinn Robinson, press secretary for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said the social movement has opened the floodgates to survivors coming forward, and sexual assault service providers are grappling with the influx. 

“We’re humbled and honored to be (helping survivors), but I think the conversation that we’re having culturally and as a society is also putting an additional demand on sexual assault service providers,” she said. 

The state has experienced a steady rise in reported nonconsensual sex crimes for the last five years, and Colorado now has the fifth highest rate in the country. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation reported a 28% increase in reported cases from 5,442 in 2013 to 6,975 cases in 2018. 

The increase stands in contrast to the long-term trend of declining violent crime in the country that began in the 1990s, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In a study published in September, self-reported rates of rape and sexual assault increased from 298,410 in 2016 to 734,630 in 2018 in victims 12 or older — an increase of 146% in just two years. 

It’s hard to know exactly why there has been such a spike in reports, but victim advocates say it could be traced to the expanding definition of rape, as well as survivor empowerment. The FBI and numerous state Uniform Crime Reporting programs have amended their definitions of rape to exclude the word “forcible,” which slightly expanded it. The #MeToo movement also has helped create a social environment in which survivors feel more comfortable coming forward, said Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty. 

“We recognize that the #MeToo movement and other shifts that we’ve had in how our culture views sex assault encourages people to come forward and report the assault,” Doughtery said. “When I see a rise in the sex assault numbers, I don’t regard that as a negative necessarily, if it means that more people are coming forward and reporting when they’ve been sexually abused. The movement has helped raise awareness of what resources are available to victims.”

Proactive vs. reactive

Moving to End Sexual Assault is the only crisis program that serves Boulder County. Janine D’Anniballe, MESA’s executive director, said funding for services and prevention education can be difficult to find. MESA depends heavily on donations, contributions and fundraising to make up the difference between operating costs and what it gets from government grants. Right now, MESA can only afford to employ five full-time staff members, and relies on 40 volunteers to staff its 24-hour hotline. 

“Honestly, the biggest obstacle is having enough funding to hire enough staff to do the work,” D’Anniballe said. “MESA accomplishes so much and we only have five full-time staff. Imagine what we could accomplish if we doubled in size.”

MESA receives grants from the state Victims Assistance and Law Enforcement Program, and federal funds, such grants made possible by the Victims of Crime Act and the Violence Against Women Act. Only the latter provides direct funding to assist survivors of sexual assault and rape.

MESA and other community-based programs put an emphasis on prevention education. Through its educational program, MESA strives to raise awareness of how to prevent rape, among mostly boys and men in high schools, faith-based groups and sports teams. The Boulder program, like many others in Colorado, can only afford to hire one prevention coordinator. While Victims of Crime Act and Violence Against Women Act funds provide financial support for education, money cannot be used for the salary of a prevention coordinator, according to Brie Franklin, executive director of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Community programs that have prevention education rely on donations or private grants to fund those efforts, Franklin said. 

“It can be really hard to fund prevention because there’s such a need to help victims, but until we start doing more education and more prevention, we’re not going to put a dent in the problem,” she said. 

MESA’s D’Anniballe echoed that sentiment. She said the problem stems from society being more reactive than proactive regarding sexual assault and rape, and many people aren’t interested in something that doesn’t show an immediate impact. Prevention takes long-term, systematic change to undo centuries of learned behaviors, she said.

“It’s not the simple thing of, ‘lets hand all the women rape whistles,’ because guess what, we tried that…

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