About 26 percent of Idaho high schoolers reported they were purposefully controlled or emotionally hurt by someone they were dating in the last 12 months, according to the state Department of Education’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

“That’s one-in-four youth,” said Jennifer Martinez, who works with the Idaho Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. “I know numbers are hard, but sometimes, numbers are what we need to hear.”

Martinez cited several of the survey’s findings during a press conference last Wednesday at the state Capitol. The event centered primarily on advocates, like Martinez, and community-based programs sharing with lawmakers what currently is being offered to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in the state — and what Idaho still needs to focus on, such as youth, indigenous women, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups, who are more susceptible to these crimes.

Executive Director for Family Safety Network, Emily Bilcher attended the event for the first time this year and said the gathering was encouraging, especially for organizations that serve rural areas of the state.

“I feel that the Idaho Coalition empowers directors of local communities to really have a voice for those that we serve,” said Bilcher of engaging with other last week in Boise. “We are on the front lines and we can have a voice in decisions that are being made in the capital building; a voice for both victims and survivors.”

Martinez said almost 15 percent of Idaho high schoolers report being forced to engage in sexual activities against their will by a romantic partner; that percentage is more than double the United States’ overall rate of 6.9 percent. In fact, she added, many of Idaho’s statistics are greater than the national average when it comes to young people experiencing sexual violence.

This is reenforced by the Teton County Prosecutor’s report two years ago which suggested that sex assault and domestic violence reports were rising to the tune of 4,000 percent over pervious years in Teton County.

“While we move toward solutions for preventing and responding to sexual violence in Idaho, we must always focus and take the lead from those most impacted by violence,” said Annie Hightower, the coalition’s director of public policy. “Idaho must work collectively toward solutions to ensure survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking are valued, safe and can thrive.”

Legislators — like Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, and Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland — shared with advocates what laws they hope to pass during the 2020 session to further improve victim support in Idaho.

Wintrow said sexual assault survivors aren’t able to obtain a civil protection order against their alleged perpetrators in Idaho. A bill she proposed in early January would change this. If passed, it will allow people to obtain a protection order through the same avenues available to those who have experienced domestic violence, even if there is no corresponding criminal investigation.

As the law stands, a person can only pursue a protection order against someone in that manner if they’re in a domestic relationship — meaning they must live together, have an intimate relationship or a child together.

“This is something that will add a sense of security for a victim. It doesn’t guarantee protection … (but) it gives them peace of mind,” Wintrow said. “That is essential.”

Jeannette Boner with the Teton Valley News contributed to this report

Olivia Heersink is the Canyon County public safety reporter. You can reach her at oheersink@idahopress.com. Follow her on Twitter @heersinkolivia.

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