YouthBuild students pledge to end violence against women at Fall River event
From The Herald News
By Michael Gagne
March 12, 2015
The pledge was simple and to the point — only one sentence.
“From this day forward I promise to be part of the solution in ending violence against women.”
It was recited by about a dozen male students as they raised their right hands Wednesday morning in YouthBuild, an alternative education program run by the Old Colony YMCA and housed at the Greater Fall River Re-Creation building on 72 Bank St.
They were joined by their teachers and U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Massachusetts, and Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn. The pledge-takers’ witnesses were their female peers in the room. All of them had pinned white ribbons to their shirts and jackets, signifying they would join the fight to end violence against women.
The White Ribbon Campaign is spearheaded by Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.
Keating is a long-time supporter of the cause and twice brought those white ribbons to Congress, where he has also distributed them to his colleagues.
“This is when the guys get to step up,” Keating told them. “We’re coming together for an important message.”
“We can do something about it,” he said, right before distributing the ribbons.
Ashley Bendiksen, a public relations specialist in Quinn’s office, spoke to students of her own experience as a survivor of domestic violence. She was in an abusive relationship while in college.
At 28 years old, Bendiksen is less than a decade older than many of the students with whom she shared her story of surviving domestic violence. She explained that abuse could happen to anyone.
The relationship Bendiksen spoke of started on a high note. “We spent several months head over heels, everything was going great,” Bendiksen said.
Then, one day, Bendiksen’s boyfriend “lost it,” she said. She was driving, and he was yelling. Two hours later he calmed down. The relationship progressively got worse, and he became more controlling, Bendiksen said, but at the same time she was afraid to be in the relationship, she also feared what would happen if she left it.
She also didn’t recognize at the time she was in an abusive relationship. “I only thought I wasn’t in a violent relationship because he didn’t punch me in the face,” Bendiksen said. But it eventually progressed to physical violence. She had to drop out of college at the time.
Bendiksen said she likes to share her story because, “I think it resonates with a lot of people.”
She also noted that recovery is also possible. She later re-enrolled in school and graduated at the top of her class.
“It’s so important to talk about it,” Bendiksen said of domestic violence. “We all have to understand the issue and speak out against it.
“It’s never too late to change your path in life.”
As Bendiksen spoke, Sean Connell, a YouthBuild teacher, was among those listening. Connell wore a specific T-shirt for the occasion. It had a tuxedo printed on the front and a message on the back: “Be a gentleman, pledge never to commit condone or remain silent about violence against women.”
He said he was glad the message about domestic violence was being spread to high school-aged students.
“It’s good for them to do this,” he said, noting that “quite a few” of the students he works with have gone through it.
One of those students, Kadisha Rivera, 21, said she had suffered abuse before, and while she said she was sad to hear of the statistics and hear Bendiksen’s story, at the same time, “it made me happy to see a woman who moved forward.”
One of her female classmates read a poem, called “I Got Flowers Today,” an account of the tragedy that can occur if abuse goes unaddressed. In the poem’s case, it was death.
Ryan Enos, 20 years old, said he knew people who went through abusive relationships and recognized that he may have also shown those tendencies in his own relationships.
“I’m willing to change for this cause, hopefully for the good,” Enos said.
Quinn told students to be leaders, and that change starts with them.
“The bottom of the line is this, whatever makes people do it, you can’t do it,” he said. “Be an example, be leaders.”