Domestic abuse survivor, speaker educates Dartmouth High students

By Shenandoah Briere | Feb 14, 2018
Photo by: Shenandoah Briere Speaker Ashley Bendiksen spoke to students about relationship violence.

It took Ashley Bendiksen a long time to realize a domestic abuse relationship isn’t the stereotype of a husband attacking his wife in the confines of their home. Instead, it is a complicated mixture of aggressive physical, psychological, emotional and even financial actions.

The winner of Miss New Bedford 2009 spoke at Dartmouth High School on February 14 on the topic of dating violence. She covered her loss of confidence early in her academic career in the second grade, when a teacher made her feel inadequate.

In middle school, she felt like an outsider and was bullied for her appearance, having worn big glasses, hand-me-down clothing and braces.

In high school, after changing her appearance, she was bullied for standing out too much and getting too much attention from the boys. It was also in high school where she was sexually assaulted on her first date at age 14 and in a relationship where she was physically and emotionally abused.

Despite a positive first year of college, she entered a two year abusive relationship that led to her being homeless. She dropped out of college, but as she ended the relationship she was attacked, which led to her filing a restraining order.

She told students to understand what an abusive relationship is and how to spot the warning signs. Some warning signs include feeling isolated, name-calling, getting accused, manipulations and threats among others.

“Unfortunately, so many teens are experiencing abusive relationships,” Bendiksen said. “They don’t realize what they’re going through is abusive because they automatically think physical violence but it’s things like excessive texting and calling and constant connection to someone that makes the relationship unhealthy and pulls from their other focuses.”

She included statistics on the prevalence of dating violence as well, noting that 16-to-24-year-olds are the most likely age group to experience dating violence, which affects one in three people.

Bystander intervention plays a huge role in further preventing domestic abuse, she explained, and said if someone had stepped in and helped her it could have changed things for her.

The speech is part of a week of events teaching students about dating violence put on by The Game Changers, a group of students lead by teacher Mark Gaffney.

The school was able to get grant funding through Game Change: The Patriots Anti-Violence Partnership, which was started in 2015 with a goal of bringing anti-violence and healthy relationship education to Massachusetts schools, according to the group’s website.

After connecting with Bendiksen’s story on a personal level, Olivia Chesney, a senior and Game Changer said events like this should be implemented into the school’s education criteria.

“It needs to be put in our school’s health program and a lot of that stuff because people don’t like to talk about it and it’s very censored because it makes people uncomfortable, but that’s like a good thing to bring it up,” Chesney said.

Nate Oliver, a junior and Game Changer said domestic violence is very prevalent and he emphasized awareness about the issue,

“To prevent it and talk about it more is for people to become bystanders and be active bystanders,” Oliver said. “I think getting everyone involved in this program, to make sure everyone knows about it is one huge step.”

Chesney said the biggest takeaway from the event is that someone isn’t alone even if they feel like they are.

“There’s always someone out there for you,” Chesney said. “It doesn’t define you. You can turn your life around, become greater after experiencing that.”

On February 15, the school will be holding a scenario day led by 23 trained students which teaches bystander intervention. Student leaders were trained in the Mentors and Violence Prevention program by the Northeastern University Sport and Society group.

Scenario day includes groups of students being placed into a room with two game changers and an adult where they will engage in various social issues like dating violence.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.