Sexual assault among teenagers on the rise |

Sexual assault among teenagers on the rise

Veronica Whitney

EAGLE COUNTY – When a freshman at Battle Mountain High School talks about the fact that some boys grabbed her friends’ butts, she says they ‘have been sexually harassed.’But what starts as an innocent game between teenagers could turn out to be a criminal case with a sexual assault charge, said District Attorney Mark Hurlbert. “Sexual assault can include unlawful sexual contact and that could include grabbing somebody’s butt,” said Hurlbert, whose jurisdiction covers Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties. “You would have to prove it was for sexual arousal, gratification or abuse. In the case of grabbing a butt, it would be difficult to prove it if they were wearing clothes.”Sexual assault among teenagers isn’t common, but it’s on the rise, and according to Hurlbert, prosecutors are starting to see inappropriate sexual behavior at a younger age.Prosecutors recently charged a Battle Mountain High School senior with two counts of sexual assault. The 17-year-old student, whose identity is being withheld, has been held without bail at a juvenile detention center in Denver since Feb. 24, when Avon Police arrested him for allegedly raping two 16-year-old girls. “About 5 percent of sexual assault cases include only teenagers. We’re talking a few more cases every year,” Hurlbert said. “We’re seeing more inappropriate sexual behavior in middle schools in Summit County. We’ve got complaints from parents and bus drivers.” Playing with fire?One problem teenagers can unknowingly face is that the law has changed significantly to more fully protect people, said Rohn Robbins, an attorney from Edwards.”Kids are playing with fire,” he said. “It’s not like with their parents 30 years ago. When you are a kid you do a lot of things that could be criminal that you consider mischievous, he said.”But raping a girl – there isn’t much question that’s wrong,” he added.Sexual assault could even include certain types of dancing, Hurlbert said.”Educating teenagers on sexual assault could prevent them from getting into trouble,” he said. “We don’t want to go on a witch hunt, we’re not the sex police,” he added. “We want to make people aware of these issues. Kids should be looking out for unwanted sexual advances.”Such advances include a person repeatedly grabbing their breasts or genitalia, he added.”(Teenagers) have to be aware of getting too drunk and someone raping them,” Hurlbert said.To Robbins, there still has to be some balance reached when it comes to sexual assault law.”Since the law is intended to be used as a shield rather than a sword, and since it can be, and at times is, used as a sword, there needs to be a careful filtering of allegations of sexual impropriety to insure that the law is not inappropriately applied in a vindictive or punitive manner unrelated to an actual assault,” Robbins said. “A lot of people have been wrongfully convicted,” he added. “I’d hate to be an 18-year-old boy now. It’s confusing what the rules are.”Depending on the charges, penalties for a teenager convicted of sexual assault can vary. Sentences range from probation, time in jail to two years in a juvenile detention facility. A juvenile – 18 and under- can also be charged as an adult and, in that case, the penalty could be life in prison.Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or ==========================================Sexual assault hotlineIf you have been sexually assaulted: • Make certain you are in a safe place.• Seek medical attention by calling 911, the police and, or, a rape crisis hotline such as the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program.• Do not bathe, or otherwise disturb evidence, before seeking medical attention.• If you suspect that you have been drugged, go immediately to a hospital emergency room and request the appropriate tests.Sexual assault victims may seek counseling assistance by calling the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program’s Rape Crisis hotline which is available 24-hours a day. The hotline’s phone number is (303)322-7273. Spanish-speaking people may call (303)329-0031, and the hearing impaired may call (303)329-0023.The Rape Assistance and Awareness Program offers the following additional services:• Victim advocacy: Including medical treatment, legal support, job placement, housing and other services.• Counseling for rape and incest survivors.• Education: Teaching personal safety skills for women; and providing sexual assault prevention education in schools.=================================================Vail, Colorado

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