Welcome to Colorado, the sex-assault capital of the world, where our governor goes on national TV to talk not about snow falling over the Rockies, but fallout over the University of Colorado's recruiting scandal -- and the rape charges that initially got buried in a CU snow job.
Eighteen months ago, Bill Owens told the country that the entire state was on fire. And now -- a year after the Air Force Academy sex-assault scandal took off, seven months after Kobe Bryant dropped his drawers -- it seems that everyone in Colorado still has hot pants.
"The question I have for the ladies in this is why they are going to parties like this and drinking or taking drugs or putting themselves in a very threatening or serious position?" That's what Joyce Lawrence, former state legislator and co-chair of the panel named to investigate CU recruiting parties, said to a Channel 4 reporter last week.
Sound familiar? It should.
"She did engage in some very high-risk behavior that night," Brigadier General Taco Gilbert, then commandant of cadets at the Air Force Academy, told Westword's Julie Jargon in January 2003, commenting on one cadet's complaint that she'd been sexually assaulted -- and that the academy hadn't taken her charges seriously. "Again, the behavior in no way justifies what happened to her, but when you put yourself in situations with increased risk, you have to take increased precautions to mitigate those risks. For example, if I walk down a dark alley with hundred-dollar bills hanging out of my pockets, it doesn't justify my being attacked or robbed, but I certainly increased the risk by doing what I did."
Rather than walk down a dark alley, on October 13, 2001, this cadet had actually been celebrating a football-team victory with other cadets at an off-campus party. Sound familiar? It should.
She'd been drinking a lot -- maybe seven vodka and lemonades, she estimated -- and had thrown up, then felt well enough to join an already-in-progress strip-poker game. But she'd left that, put her clothes back on over her underwear and gone off to get a drink of water.
That's when she ran into a fellow cadet, an engaged guy she'd just met that day. He stopped her, took her into the master bathroom, started kissing her. The room was spinning, everything was hazy. Except the pain.
After it was over, she went and found a friend, another male cadet. "She was sobbing really hard, and I just hugged her to provide support," he later told academy officials. "She kept saying stuff like, 'I didn't know where he was taking me. He said, 'Follow me, follow me,' and I just followed him. I didn't know that this was the parents' bedroom. I didn't know that he locked the door. I feel so bad. At least nothing happened; at least nothing happened. I am glad that nothing happened.'
"This upset me a little bit, because it was very clear from the blood that something did happen, and I knew that she was just in denial," he continued. "She kept sobbing really hard, and I was surprised when she said, 'I told him NO! Three times, I told him NO! I tried to push him away.' She said that like four times in a row."
She'd planned to remain a virgin until marriage.
That's where the cadet's story veers drastically from the accounts of CU students who found themselves hosting a party of football players and recruits on December 7, 2001. No one that night claimed to be a virgin. But otherwise, the same dangerous ingredients created an explosive combination. Too much liquor and too little questioning of a campus culture that considered female students an adjunct of male activities, whether on the football field or in the air. A river of alcohol runs through all the stories now spilling out about that CU party, in which recollections are blurry and often contradictory. But that doesn't explain away the staggeringly bad judgment displayed by school officials after the incidents.
As soon as the cadet got back to Colorado Springs, she contacted Cadets Advocating Sexual Integrity and Education, a program set up years before to help victims of assault. An academy nurse took her for a rape exam, and then the cadet requested an investigation. When, after three months, the Office of Special Investigations decided not to court-martial her assailant, the cadet took her case to Gilbert. "I told him that I wanted the cadet wing to know that this type of behavior is wrong and for the Air Force to say it's wrong. They say they have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and assault, and this was their chance to prove it," she said. "He looked at me and said, ŒI want the cadet wing to know that your behavior that night was wrong and won't be tolerated.'"
After Westword told this cadet's story in "The War Within," published in the January 30, 2003, issue, dozens of women made similar complaints to Senator Wayne Allard's office, adding up to over 140 reports of sexual assault at the academy since 1993 -- when the academy had revamped policies specifically to deal with the problem of sexual assault.
Sound familiar? After reports that a seventeen-year-old was raped at a CU football recruiting party in 1997, that school, too, was going to revamp its policies. Four years later, stories surfaced of a sex assault at another party, but after the Boulder district attorney declined to file charges, those stories sank back out of sight until first one, then a second, then a third woman filed federal lawsuits. And now that depositions in that first lawsuit -- including one from the blabby DA -- are pouring out ugly details by the day, CU has decided that maybe, finally, it's time to conduct a real investigation. And it appointed Lawrence to co-chair the effort.
When the Air Force first investigated the situation on that campus last spring, its team found "no systemic acceptance of sexual assault at the academy, no institutional avoidance of responsibility, or systemic maltreatment of cadets who report sexual assault." But when Congress's independent team, headed by former Florida representative Tillie Fowler, released its report a few months later, it noted that a "chasm in leadership" at the academy had "helped create an environment in which sexual assault became a part of life."
On February 16, CU -- the number-one party school in the country, whose recruitment parties apparently include entertainment by professional strippers as well as unconscious coeds -- is expected to name the rest of the investigative team that will join Lawrence and her co-chair. Although Fowler would be a welcome addition, the more standard Colorado choice would be Taco Gilbert, and he's got time: Removed from his slot at the academy, he's now assigned to the Pentagon.
The Air Force Academy has said it wants its response to the sex-assault scandal to be a model for how to handle such a crisis.
So far, CU is following the playbook.
Before the Kobe Bryant sex scandal, and the CU sex scandal, and the Air Force Academy sex scandal, there was JonBenét Ramsey. More than seven years after the six-year-old beauty queen was found murdered in Boulder on December 26, 1996, that story lives on.
Walter Davis remembers his introduction to the dead girl. "The first time I saw her on TV, which was in one of the videos from one of the performances, I didn't know anything about child beauty pageants," says Davis, a professor emeritus in the English department at Ohio State University. "I found myself in tears, watching it. I found myself wondering, 'How could anyone do this to a child?'"
He began investigating the bizarre world of beauty pageants and the even more bizarre world of the Ramseys. "As I worked further, she just emerged for me more and more," he says of JonBenét. "I not only fell in love with the child, but it occurred to me that the thing to do was to try to give her the voice that had been taken away from her. It hit me with a flash: 'I'm going to write a play in which she doesn't die.'"
The result is one of the more unusual chapters in the entire Ramsey oeuvre, an Evening With JonBenét Ramsey, a book combining Davis's play on JonBenét -- Cowboy's Sweetheart, which takes her into imagined adulthood -- with his essays on the effects of psychological and sexual abuse.
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But while those glamour shots of JonBenét were what gave a basic murder story legs enough to circle the globe, suggesting that the Ramseys were guilty of anything can be dangerous these days. After seeing the family's attorney, Lin Wood, on Larry King's show one night, Davis says, he sent the lawyer an e-mail describing his work and received this reply: "Publish your book and I will buy myself another Jaguar and thoroughbred racehorse in the money I will make off of you."
Not that Davis plans to make any money off this himself. Any proceeds from the self-published book -- available through www.iUniverse.com -- will go to organizations working with sexually abused children.
"We lost sight of the primary thing," he says. "Here was evidence of a very sick family, here was evidence of a national epidemic -- the way parents feel it is their right to use their children to satisfy their needs and desires, no matter what it does to the child."