Domestic abuse survivor, speaker educates Dartmouth High students

Feb 15, 2018

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.

She changed her appearance in high school, but was still bullied for standing out and getting too much attention from the boys. She was sexually assaulted on her first date when she was 14, and was in a relationship where she was physically and emotionally abused.

In college, she entered a two-year abusive relationship that led to her being homeless. She dropped out of college, and was attacked when she ended the relationship.

She told students to understand what an abusive relationship is and how to spot the warning signs, like feeling isolated, name-calling, accusations, manipulation, and threats.

“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.”

Teenagers and young adults are especially at risk for dating violence. Bendiksen said 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 her situation.

The speech is part of a week of events teaching students about dating violence at the high school, organized 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 she’d like to see events incorporated into the school’s educational criteria.