Tara Shaffer, a sexual assault survivor, speaks to an audience of about 30 people Wednesday night at the Moffat County High School auditorium during a presentation designed to raise awareness and dispel myths about sexual assault. Shaffer, a Steamboat Springs resident, urged teenagers to speak out against sexual violence. “Please tell somebody, anybody, because it’s not just one night of a girl’s life that you’ve ruined by sex assault,” she said. “It’s her life. It’s her whole life.”

Photo by Bridget Manley

Tara Shaffer, a sexual assault survivor, speaks to an audience of about 30 people Wednesday night at the Moffat County High School auditorium during a presentation designed to raise awareness and dispel myths about sexual assault. Shaffer, a Steamboat Springs resident, urged teenagers to speak out against sexual violence. “Please tell somebody, anybody, because it’s not just one night of a girl’s life that you’ve ruined by sex assault,” she said. “It’s her life. It’s her whole life.”

Sexual assault survivors share stories of pain, redemption at Wednesday presentation

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Sexual assault survivors share stories at presentation

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“I stand here today, a woman who is no longer a victim, but a survivor.”

— Craig resident Amber Hampton about surviving sexual assault

Tara Shaffer was on her guard the night long ago that unalterably changed her life.

The college freshman heard warnings that a sexual predator was prowling campus. She and a friend vowed to stick together that night as they went to a party.

Shaffer believed she would be safe.

But her attacker — the man who pushed her into her apartment and sexually assaulted her —wasn’t hiding in the shadows, she said during a presentation Wednesday night at the Moffat County High School auditorium.

It was the man who offered to walk her home.

The next day, he asked to see her, she said. She expected an apology.

Instead, he told her to believe a lie.

“He said, ‘Don’t tell anyone this was rape. You were a (prostitute) last night,’” she said.

Shaffer, now a wife and mother in Steamboat Springs, eventually came to see that what happened to her wasn’t her fault, she told an audience of about 30 people Wednesday night.

Yet the pain and fear were lasting testaments to the damage one act of violence wreaked on her life, she said.

She urged members of the audience to speak out when they believe someone is in danger.

“Please tell somebody, anybody, because it’s not just one night of a girl’s life that you’ve ruined by sex assault,” she said. “It’s her life. It’s her whole life.”

Sexual assault “crosses all social borders and boundaries” and doesn’t discriminate between men and women, old or young, Karen Zimmerman said during the presentation.

However, “talking about it isn’t something we do,” the Moffat County Sex Assault Response Team coordinator said.

About 65 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, making it a “silent epidemic,” she said.

Zimmerman organized the event to recognize April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month and to define what sexual assault is and is not.

It’s not justified by what a person wears, and it’s not condonable if the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, she said.

Men as well as women can be victims, as well as the elderly and children, Zimmerman said.

And, any non-consensual sex, including in a married relationship, is sexual assault.

“Anytime you say no, no is no,” she said.

Parents should talk to their children about “where they can and can’t be touched,” she said.

And, anyone who is sexually assaulted should tell someone, even if they choose not to involve law enforcement.

Justice is not out of reach for survivors who press charges against their attackers, Craig resident Amber Hampton said during the presentation.

Beginning when she was 8, she suffered years of sexual assault at the hands of her stepfather, Cyril Joseph Lenahan IV, of Craig.

In November 2011, he was convicted of one count of sexual assault on a child with a pattern of abuse, a Class 3 felony; one count of sexual assault on a child, a Class 4 felony; and one count of sexual assault on a child by someone in a position of trust, a Class 4 felony.

He was sentenced in February to 15 years to life in prison.

Seeking justice was “one of the hardest things that I have ever done,” Hampton said.

However, “having that opportunity made the two years of therapy, police interviews and multiple court appearances worth it, because at the end of the week, I took back control of my life,” she said.

“I do not stand here in front of you today afraid of the reaction I may receive or ashamed of what I went through,” Hampton said.

“I stand here today, a woman who is no longer a victim, but a survivor.”

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