By Katie Hoban
Peer Educators Empowering Respectful Students (PEERS) held an event with Ashley Bendiksen, an award winning activist that engages youth networks by educating them in abuse prevention regarding dating. Bendiksen came to CUA on February 19th to speak on the subject at hand: domestic violence in the dating world.
Around 25 students showed up to the event to hear what Bendiksen had to share about her own experience. She started her talk with one simple fact: one in three teens will experience an abusive relationship between the ages of 14 and 24. The room fell silent while blanks stares gazed back at her; the raw emotion of that statement hit the room and engaged an audience that would learn the dangers and warning signs of dating violence
Bendiksen shared her experience with dating and the violence that she endured while dating two boys throughout her young adult life. She shared her horrible experience with her first boyfriend and how he pressured her to engage in sexual acts that she was not comfortable with.
“I remember going home and I was not sure how to feel about that date,” Bendiksen said. “I thought I was maybe blowing things out of proportion, so I continued to date him.”
This relationship started to affect her everyday life. She was depressed, her grades started to drop, and she started self-harming. After dating her high school boyfriend for two years, they broke up and Bendiksen was able to move forward and thought that she had learned from her past.
During a summer of her college career, Bendiksen started dating a boy who she thought was better than her high school boyfiend because he ticked off all the boxes in a healthy relationship checklist, mainly that he never forced her to do any sexual acts.
“I was already starting to experience the early warning signs of an abusive relationship,” Bendiksen said.
As time went on and Bendiksen went back to school, the relationship started to grow increasingly toxic. He followed her to college, and slept over every night.
“This boyfriend was hovering over my shoulder at all times,” Bendiksen said. “I was trying to manage my boyfriend at all times.”
The worst came when he yelled at her in front of her parents, leading to him as well as Bendiksen being kicked out of her family home, leaving both of them homeless. The gasps of people in attendance filled the room.
Desperate, afraid, and now living out of her car, Bendiksen had no one else to turn to and was trapped in an unhealthy relationship. When winter rolled around, she saved enough money for an apartment for the two of them, and behind closed doors things started to increasingly get worse.
Knowing something had to change, she broke up with him after this event. Unfortunately, that did not end the abusive cycle she was on.
“What I did not know was that it was incredibly dangerous to break up with someone like this and not have a plan,” Bendiksen said.
Two weeks after breaking up with him, he showed up intoxicated to her apartment, forced his way in, and attacked her. He began to throw her against the wall, hit her, and started to strangle her. The shocked faces and hand covered mouths were a sign of how dangerous this situation was, and how no one expected this to happen afterwards.
Eventually the man was arrested for his actions and Bendiksen was able to get a restraining order against him. From this incident, she was able to move forward, she went back to school and graduated top of her class with a degree in social justice, and began to volunteer at a women’s shelter. One night, a worker asked her to share her experience, jump starting her career as an activist and speaker.
“I learned so much about abuse by, unfortunately, living through it,” Bendiksen said. “I said I am going to change and make up for lost time.”
Afterwards, students were able to ask questions and voice their own opinions on the subject matter. Students and staff were able to approach her afterwards to talk privately as well, and receive advice on certain personal situations.
“We hosted Ashley Bendiksen who talked about healthy relationships and bystander intervention while sharing her powerful story of survivorship,” said Aly Senko, organizer of Lead the Change event. “It was an awesome talk and a great part of our healthy relationships month campaign.”
Besides public speaking and activism, Bendiksen has also worked with the legislative system, specifically with the Bristle County District Attorney’s office as a victim witness advocate and in the press department where he helped Congressman Joe Kennedy build his public relations and community presence.
Bendiksen continues to travel the country to speak on this important issue and to share her story with others in hopes to prevent any further domestic violence.