Talking with adults about sensitive issues such as date rape or sexual abuse can be difficult for teenagers, says Lucy Dominguez, who is becoming a crisis counselor at age 15.
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"There's people out there who don't really have older people to talk to and don't have that bond or whatever," she said. "They might feel more comfortable talking to their peers."
A free and confidential peer crisis line sponsored by the AWARE shelter will begin operation Sunday.
Six teenagers have been hired after undergoing nearly 40 hours of training. They will field calls from 4 to 8 p.m. each Sunday.
"Teenagers can call and talk with other teens about teen dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, relationships and resources available for teens in the Juneau community," said Ati Nasiah, coordinator for the Teens Resisting Abuse and Initiating Nonviolence crisis line.
"This is, specifically, teenagers advocating and speaking with other teenagers."
Nasiah said the need became evident last April during a "take back the night" event held in connection with sexual assault awareness month.
"A number of teens spoke up and basically disclosed being victims of sexual assault," she said. "It was a powerful event and it sort of highlighted this need to be supporting teens in our community."
A $43,200 Violence Against Women Act discretionary grant was secured, and AWARE began training about 40 teenagers about a range of abuse-related issues over a period of 212 months.
"We hired six really great teens and have been doing on-the-job training," Nasiah said, adding that the teenagers receive a stipend for their work. "It's like a paid volunteer position. It's actually a pretty awesome job for a teen."
Holly Adams, 16, said she had a good experience learning how to talk about the many issues teens face.
"I didn't know how common it was, domestic violence and stuff," she said. "I knew it was there but I didn't realize how common it was, and that really amazed me."
The statistics in Alaska are staggering, Nasiah said.
"We know Alaska is number one in substance abuse as well as domestic assault, sexual assault and suicide - so it's a big issue," she said.
Offering support, information and empowering teenage girls as they enter adulthood is particularly important, Nasiah said.
"One statistic is girls 16 to 24 have the highest rate of victimization," she said. "They are at a time in their life when they are very vulnerable."
A typical teenager in Juneau has lots of social issues to deal with that they may not feel comfortable discussing with an adult, Dominguez said.
"Drug use and pregnancies and abusive parents, there are definitely a lot of issues out there," she said.
Dominguez said she hopes the teen crisis line will "help people out who don't usually have people to talk to. You can be there for them to talk to when they don't have anybody to talk to."
Adams said she hopes they can help convince peers that they don't have to put up with abusive relationships.
"I hope we can help other teens make the right choices and show them the options that they have," she said.
Although the peer advocates will only be working on Sunday evenings, Nasiah said teenagers can call the line at any time if they need assistance or someone to talk to. The TRAIN crisis line is 586-5920.
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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