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New Washington initiative wants to use sports as a platform to stop teen dating violence

KENNEWICK, Wash. - Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. A new initiative aims to help lower that number by targeting high school athletes and their coaches.

The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) recently launched Team Up Washington. The new initiative is designed to prevent violence by equipping student athletes with tools to shift culture at their high schools and in their community.

The program incorporates two curriculums geared towards women and men: Athletes As Leaders and Coaching Boys Into Men. The two research-based programs are meant to help coaches and mentors start conversations and teach teens healthy relationship skills.

"You walk into any high school and there’s a social hierarchy, and athletes are usually at the top of that," said Zac Shileika, teen and family advocate/prevention specialist at Domestic Violence Services of Benton & Franklin Counties. "What we've seen this program do is inspire these athletes to lead those around them into healthy discussions about all the topics that they’re coming up against."

Shileika said that can include anything from drug abuse to relationships to parties.

"We've seen it create this awesome culture within the schools it’s been implemented in," he said.

The curriculum itself is being used in some high schools on the west side of the state, but Shileika is hoping to get it brought to schools in Eastern Washington.

The latest local statistics show that 40 percent of youth surveyed in Benton and Franklin County don't have a trusted adult they can speak to about issues they're dealing with. Shileika said he believes a program like this can help open the door for a coach - who has a unique relationship with a teen and often spends a lot of time with them - to be that person.

"I believe that sometimes as adults we don't understand the gravity of the messages we're sending to our youth," he said. "Sometimes there’s no follow up for when you're off the field, and what these programs do is they compensate for that."

Trainings on the program are being held for coaches, mentors and athletic directors. The first training is July 31 at Century Link Field in Seattle. For more information or to register, click here

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