Sara Meotti

When speaking to others about Teen Dating Violence, people are often surprised that dating abuse is a problem in teen relationships. Unfortunately, it is. The term Teen Dating Violence encompasses any form of relationship abuse that may manifest in a teen dating relationship including emotional, psychological, physical, technological, and sexual abuse. It is heartbreaking to think about abuse and manipulation showing up so early in someone’s life, but Teen Dating Violence is a major problem in need of addressing.

The 2019 Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey highlights the significance of this problem in Idaho. More than a quarter of all Idaho high school students responded that they had been purposefully controlled or emotionally hurt by a dating partner in the past twelve months. Furthermore, 7.6% of all high school students reported that they had been physically abused by a dating partner in the past 12 months. The sexual assault statistics are just as jarring, with 14.9% of all high school students indicating that they had been forced to do sexual activities that they did not want to do with a dating partner.

The prevalence of Teen Dating Violence compounded with the significant life impacts that can result from undergoing these traumatic experiences highlight the severity of this public health concern. When someone undergoes a traumatic event, such as sexual assault or partner abuse, it is critical that they receive support as soon as possible and from those that are closest to them. Strong networks of support and belief throughout the healing process can help a survivor to avoid some of the more significant mental and physical health impacts of interpersonal trauma.

Considering the importance of this issue, Family Safety Network has been taking steps to increase the accessibility of resources to Teton Valley youth and to prevent the occurrence of unhealthy relationships, teen dating violence, and sexual assault. One of these steps was creating a full-time Prevention Educator and Youth Advocate position at Family Safety Network. In this new role, I am grateful to begin my work serving the youth of Teton Valley.

Part of this new role encompasses working with the community to prevent traumatic events before they occur. Over the summer, Family Safety Network had a presence at local events like Music on Main and the back-to-school event, Teton Valley Cares, to expand information on our services and prevent domestic and sexual violence in Teton Valley. As the school year begins, our youth prevention outreach will continue to expand as we introduce a high school internship that pays local youth to work as healthy relationship cultural influencers by organizing events and outreach campaigns around preventing teen dating violence, bullying, and sexual assault.

For any youth experiencing abuse, Family Safety Network can be of service by assisting with safety planning, applying for a civil protection order, court accompaniment and advocacy, working with schools on accommodating needs, and more. One of our most important roles is the provision of emotional support. We can assure that all individuals will be heard and believed at Family Safety Network. Teton Valley teens do not need to be in a dire situation to seek help for themselves or a friend. As the Youth Advocate, I will gladly come alongside teens to chat about whether their relationship is healthy or not, to come up with a safe plan for breaking up, or to give advice on how to set appropriate boundaries.

If you or a loved one feel unsafe, please do not hesitate to reach out to Family Safety Network. Our office at 120 N 1st Street in Driggs is open on Mondays through Fridays from 9am-5pm and advocates are available 24/7 on our hotline at (208) 354-7233.