An alarming number of domestic violence and sexual assault cases are being recorded in Moffat County.
According to Rick Ridenour, board president of the umbrella agency Advocates-Crisis Support Services, local victim support groups are receiving three to four calls a day.
"Moffat County has one of the highest if not the highest rates in Colorado," he told commissioners at Monday's commission meeting. "Our numbers (of victims) for the last ten months are higher than our numbers for the last 12 months."
Ridenour asked commissioners to recognize October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a request that the board approved.
Next month's national status helps bring a long-standing but usually hushed issue into the open, Ridenour said.
An October 7 vigil on the Moffat County courthouse lawn is intended to honor those affected by domestic violence and celebrate those who have survived.
Though it's hard to decipher if more victims of domestic abuse are coming forward or more victims are being abused, there's no doubt the numbers of the county cases are increasing, said local advocates.
According to Pat Tessmer, the executive director of the Advocates-Crisis Support Services, the agency recorded more new cases in the summer months of July and August than in the group's almost 25-year history in operation.
Seventy-six new cases were reported in July and 65 new cases were claimed in August.
"We can't identify a trend," Tessmer said. "At first we thought it was the heat, but it's not that. I don't know if there's more violence or we're seeing more people become aware."
Either way, she said, the month of recognition plays a vital role in victims coming forward.
"In order to stop it, we have to send a message that it's not OK," Tessmer said. "The public statements tend to be helpful."
In the last ten months the domestic violence group has received more than 1,400 phone calls. It has received 436 new contacts and maintains contact with 362 people. Since the beginning of the year, the group has counseled 468 people for domestic violence.
"For a long time this has been America's dirty little secret," Ridenour said. "It doesn't matter about education, religion or economics. Domestic violence has no barriers."
The cases of domestic violence are more visible in the county in the past three years, he said. Ridenour guessed that's because more people are reporting incidents of abuse and have become less tolerant of it.
To better gauge the efficiency of local programs combating domestic violence, Advocates-Crisis Support Services is conducting a safety accountability audit.
Two focus groups each of eight to 10 English- and Spanish-speaking people are needed. Participants must have some history working with a local domestic violence group or law enforcement agency on domestic abuse issues. A $50 stipend and dinner is offered to participants who appear for the Sept. 24 meeting at 6 p.m. For more information call the Advocates Crisis Support Center at 824-9709.
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.