Teen dating abuse can be emotional or mental as well as physical

When Catilin von Gaertner of Saving Grace teaches her Safe Dates curriculum to Prineville youth, she stresses that dating violence can take many forms.

"It is defined as any behavior," she explained. "It's any action that can instill fear in your partner, which allows you to maintain control over them. It can be physical, but usually it's not. Usually it's a mental, emotional, or verbal-type thing."

This month, Saving Grace, a regionally-based nonprofit, is honoring Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month. The organization pointed out that domestic violence is not just limited to adults and that one in three adolescents nationwide will be physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by their dating partner.

To honor the awareness month in Prineville, von Gaertner is conducting 12 shortened versions of her 10-week Safe Dates program.

"We condensed the most important information into about 45 minutes," she said.

Twelve sessions have been held at the Rimrock Adolescent Treatment Facility, and three more at Crook County Middle School. She will also teach two girls' groups at Crook County High School as well as five presentations in high school health classes.

The sessions seek to teach teens what a healthy relationship should look like.

"I name a lot of those characteristics like communication, equality, respect and freedom," von Gaertner said. "Independence is a huge thing for high-schoolers. There is a lot of constant calling and texting, and stalking behavior."

From there, the short course covers the definition and signs of abuse.

"The definition of abuse is any pattern of behavior that is used to gain power and control over the other partner," von Gaertner said. "Constant calling or texting may not be abusive unless it is used for the purposes of power and control."

When dating violence occurs, teens may find themselves faced with a unique set of circumstances. A news release issued by Saving Grace noted that teens might lack money and transportation, and may not know of a safe place to go. In addition, teens could have concerns about confidentiality as many adults are obligated to make reports to police, parents, and child protective services.

On the surface, it seems that Crook County has few incidences of teen dating violence. District Attorney Daina Vitolins said there are no pending cases locally. At the same time, she does not consider the case load a reliable predictor of teen dating abuse prevalence.

"One of the issues in these cases is they are not reported," she said.

Like Vitolins, von Gaertner had no data to quantify the incidences of teen dating violence in Crook County. However, she has seen some developments as she teaches her courses that seem encouraging.

"Kids are aware of it (abuse), and I am sort of sensing a cultural shift," she said.

The Saving Grace Helpline is 541-389-7021 or toll free at 1-866-504-8992. Additional resources on teen dating violence are available at

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