During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, APSU students do what they can to advocate for survivors. For Ashley Cash, a current college student and writer, her desire to work with the issue of domestic violence is personal.
She was engaged at 17 to her boyfriend of four and a half years. She describes the relationship as being “emotionally, verbally, sexually and physically abusive.” However, she did not recognize the signs of abuse until after the relationship ended.
“I never saw what my abuser did to me as abuse because he never hit me and he never raped me,” Cash said. “I didn’t know what abuse looked like, and after recovering and going through months of counseling, I started seeing what I had dealt with.”
After getting out of her abusive relationship, Cash began seeking out resources for survivors of teen dating violence. One particular memoir that inspired her was “Tornado Warning” by Elin Stebbins Waldal. The memoir details how Waldal also had an abusive partner at 17, as well as the effects domestic violence has on women and young girls of any age.
Waldal’s story of how abuse can bring a confident teen down to their lowest resonated with Cash, which only further inspired her search for support.
“I wanted to be able to tell people ‘yes this does happen,’” Cash said. “Because sometimes looking at statistics makes people go ‘that would never happen to me.’”
Cash runs a blog called Speak Up Stand Tall, which discusses the realities of teen dating violence and assault. Cash describes her blog as “memoir mixed with research,” as she cites her experiences while discussing intimate partner violence from an objective view, citing sources from textbooks found in the APSU database.
“I mainly talk from experience, but I try to add videos of other testimonies or resources,” Cash said.
Opening up about her experiences garnered pushback from her abuser. Despite not naming him, he and his family actively victim-blamed and lied about what happened to her, minimizing the depths of what she went through. She was made to step down from a position at her former church due to their negative reactions. When she approached the leadership of the church to discuss her position at the church, her blog and her request to have accommodations to make her feel safe in the church, she was ignored.
In spite of her experiences, Cash says that “everything happens for a reason.” After stepping down from her former church, she was offered different opportunities at other churches. She has since found a new home at Spring Creek and works at St. Brigid’s.
The impact of Cash’s blog extends the anger of an unfortunate few. She receives complete support from her friends and family, as well as many people who reach out to share their stories with her. She has spoken to many groups about her story, including one at the public library and another at the Parks and Recreation Summer Camp. She also won the Doug Barber Service Award at Miss Austin Peay this previous fall.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Cash said. “I really felt like I was touching lives, especially when kids came up and shared things with me or wanted to speak more about what they went through and what to do, whether regarding themselves or a friend.”
Cash continues to run her blog, and she plans to document her experiences in a memoir.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. For more information, visit the official website for Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).