February is Teen Dating Violence Action month

If someone uttered the phrase “domestic violence,” would a teenager be what came to mind?

Teen Dating Violence Action Month (TDVAM) is a government recognized initiative taking place throughout the month of February. Established not only to bring awareness to prevalent issues of violence within teen dating, the goal of TDVAM is to invest in the prevention of violence and the education of healthy relationships for teens.

Such is the goal for HAVEN’s Empowerment Project.

Having been a part of the HAVEN organization for the last 10 years, The Empowerment Project — formally known as HAVEN’s Violence Prevention Program before officially being rebranded last year — is a program not only focused on the discussion of abuse within relationships or the home, but also investing in the intervention and overall prevention of such violence. Eve Elderwell, HAVEN’s Bilingual Prevention Education coordinator, describes how The Empowerment Project integrates “skills building… [as well as] discuss[ing] relationship health across the board” into their program. She states, “Whether that’s … skills we need to have healthy relationship with ourselves, or in a relationship, or in a community, or in a society and culture as a whole … we really want to encourage and empower our communities to find and practice skills that they already have in them and to feel that they are taking agency in their own lives to create their own healthy relationships.”

While not their program’s singular focus, one of the primary targets of The Empowerment Project’s healthy relationship education and outreach is centered around the youth of the community. Describing teen years as a “crucial” time of learning, one of the program’s the overall goals is educate youth on what makes a healthy relationship (romantic, familial, or with friends), and how to develop that education into skills that can be put into practice for the rest of their lives. Why is this work crucial? According to a 2019 Oregon Healthy Teen Survey, about one in six Gorge area sophomores reported being pressured into sex, with about one in 25 reporting being physically forced into sex, and about one in 20 reporting being hit, slapped, or otherwise physically harmed by a partner.

“Teen dating violence can happen to anyone in any type of relationship,” said Cassie Chenoweth, prevention facilitator for The Empowerment Project. “You hear people say, 'Oh this wouldn’t happen to me, or my community, or my child,' and the fact is it can happen to anyone.”

Like many in this pandemic, HAVEN and The Empowerment Project have had to get “creative” in order to continue their prevention efforts. In the past, the prevention program was free to take a more hands on approaches — providing skill building curriculum surrounding concepts such as consent, boundary setting, and conflict resolution inside classrooms, as well as implementing school clubs to educate high school students on relationship health and how they can implement that knowledge to help their peers and their community — The Empowerment Project has had to shift their youth outreach into an entirely digital program. Most notably would be their annual Summit.

Traditionally high school students from Wasco and other North Central Oregon counties would come together for HAVEN’s Summit and participate in interactive workshops designed to teach about relationships and build empowerment. Due to restrictions, Summit was held online this year, where students, along with their teachers, participated in 40–45-minute workshops similar to what would have experienced in classrooms. As most interactions this year have taken place online, this year’s Summit was centered around online influence and healthy online interactions, titled, “We are all Influencers.”

Because the Empowerment project is unable to be as hands-on in their outreach — while also facing the challenges such as lack of accessibility to internet or unsafe environments — they urge parents, teachers, and caregivers of teens to get involved with their teen’s understanding of healthy relationships, if not thought workshop participation, then through modeling healthy behavior.

“Youth and teens are watching,” said Elderwell. “They will copy what they see and try it out in their own relationships.”

If adults are interested in taking part in some workshops, The Empowerment Project is hosting a free virtual zoom workshop for parents and adults working with youth called “Start the Conversation,” which will discuss how to cultivate a comfortable, safe environment for teens to discuss their relationships and relationship health. The workshop takes place Feb. 18, from 6:30-7 p.m. To participate or obtain more information, visit HAVEN of the Columbia River Gorge Facebook page, or send inquires to eve@haveninthedalles.org.

Celebrating 40 years of service to Wheeler, Wasco, Sherman, and Gilliam countries, Haven from Domestic and Sexual Violence [HAVEN] is an organization dedicated to advocating for and providing resources to victims of physical, mental, or sexual abuse. “HAVEN believes every survivor … has the strength and tools within them to move forwards in their life,” said Jennifer Pauletto, HAVEN’s direct service manager. The resources provided to participants by HAVEN include but are not limited to a 24-hour crisis hotline, trauma informed counseling, emergency shelter, and sexual violence response. Due to current restrictions, participants are encouraged to access services remotely, but anyone in a crisis can still meet with direct services person while following set government safety guidelines.

Due to the pandemic, HAVEN has lost their ability to fundraise as they have in the past, resulting in the loss of approximately ten percent of their previous budget, approximately $100,000. At this stage, donations are crucial in allowing HAVEN to keep providing the services and doing work that does.

“Sometimes it feels like were hanging on by a thread … funding is really important to make up the deficits,” said Tara Koch, HAVEN’s executive director. “A lot of our funding is contractual agreement so it’s restricted funding … it’s important with the money we raise that we have some unrestricted funds … in order to do the work that the restricting funds doesn’t allow us to do.”

If you are interested in donating funds to HAVEN, please call 541-296-2065 or mail to: HAVEN From Domestic and Sexual Violence (HAVEN), PO Box 576, The Dalles, OR 97058

If you would like to get involved with the Empowerment Project, you can find more information on HAVEN of the Columbia River Gorge Facebook page, and or follow TEP on their upcoming Instagram page @TheEmpowermentProject_HAVEN (March 2021).

If you or someone you know needs support from HAVEN, dial 541-296-1662 for HAVEN’s 24-hour Crisis Hotline to speak to an advocate.

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