RIVERTON — There has been an “extreme increase” in violence among Fremont County youth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Riverton school board heard last month.
“It is alarming,” Sydney Allred, executive director of the Fremont County Alliance Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, told the board. “COVID changed things. … We are seeing really, really incredibly adult violent behaviors, ranging from dating violence and stalking behaviors through rape occurring with teenagers.”
COVID-19 introduced a lot of “dynamics” that typically fuel domestic violence, Allred explained, pointing to financial stressors and social isolation in addition to the temporary closure of school facilities, which meant students “were not being seen by educators every day.”
“That increased domestic violence in the home,” Allred said. “That increased rates of child sex abuse in homes. (It) also increased rates of violence among the parents. … Kids had to see a lot.”
Some of those kids have responded to the stress by “lashing out at each other … in relationships,” Allred said.
“It’s pretty rampant,” Riverton High School health teacher Linda Griffin told the board. “It’s a pretty sad situation in our school.”
Based on the increase in domestic violence among youth, Griffin said she and other educators at RHS are developing new lessons for freshmen and sophomores aimed at “empowering these kids – not just to stick up for themselves, but to stick up for others.”
Several domestic violence survivors in the community have said they would speak to the students, Griffin said, and she is working with the physical education department on some “personal protection” classes.
It’s also important to get students thinking about healthy relationships, Allred said.
“Kids hear all the time about love, and they hear about respect, but can they define that?” she asked, noting that teenagers during the pandemic have had “access to technology every day in their pockets,” making them vulnerable to content they may not know how to process.
“(We’re) trying to help kids understand what is a healthy relationship – whether it’s a friendship, a professional relationship, or otherwise,” she said.
She also asks teens to identify an adult they would go to with a domestic violence problem.