BILLINGS — Eleven percent of Montana high school students have been forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to, according to the 2021 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The survey, completed by 98 percent of the state's school districts, polled 22,576 students anonymously in grades 7-12 in the spring of 2021. The results were published last fall. The middle school numbers are compiled in a different table.
"It’s incredibly difficult to hear, especially when you think it’s 1 in 10 kids," said Renee Schoening, executive director of the Montana School Counselors Association, recently. "It's an awful thing to contemplate. But it doesn't surprise me. In my time as a counselor, I've heard lots of stories."
"The mental health professionals have had a number of students talk to them about it," said Jessica Buboltz, the MSCA board chair and a current Missoula Hellgate High School counselor. "Sometimes it’s not necessarily reported to the school. Sometimes it'll be reported to the authorities."
Buboltz said her school administrator will report alarming cases to police. Missoula County’s numbers are slightly lower than average at 10.1%. Yellowstone County is right in line at 11.1%.
According to Billings police stats, there were 37 offenses for sexual abuse of children in 2021, and 15 offenses for statutory rape.
"It’s something we need to work towards, at all schools across the board," Buboltz said.
The numbers are worse in the state’s more rural districts. Golden Valley is one of two districts at over 20 percent. Musselshell is at 16.2 percent, and Big Horn County is the third highest in Montana at 17.5 - almost one in five kids.
"And it's the schools that are in those isolated locations that need it more than anybody," Schoening said. "Many counselors working in those more rural districts say they’re the only person within 100 miles with any kind of mental health training."
It’s why Schoening has dedicated her life to this issue.
"I teach curriculum that teaches kids between safe touch and unsafe touch," she said. "When they know that that's not normal and you give them the tools and tell them what they need to do if they experience something like that, then they can go and get the help that they need.
"We have to do something for our kids. We have to. It’s not an option anymore."