Senior Staff Writer
Third-year political science major and recent transfer, Isabella Benetti opened up about her challenging journey to university, overcoming abuse and harassment, and her unique experience integrating herself into the local community through women’s rights activism.
Benetti spent the first 11 years of her life living in Italy with her mother. When Benetti’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, she left Italy to go to the United States in order to get treatment for her diagnosis. While battling cancer, Benetti’s mother was also in the midst of a nasty custody battle with her ex-husband. Benetti’s father, an Italian politician, threatened Benetti’s mother into giving him $50,000 in exchange for custody of Benetti and verbally threatened her into staying with him.
“‘If you go there, you’ll kill your mom because your mom is too sick to take care of you,’” she described what he would say, “or ‘If you say you want to go with your mom, I’ll kill you before you get on the plane.’
When Benetti’s mother lost her battle with cancer and died when she was only 13 years old, Benetti continued to face abuse and manipulation from her father. This lasted until her last year of high school when she moved in with her grandmother.
Benetti told me a story about when she almost had the opportunity to go to the U.S. to visit her mother when she was 12, but was cut short when her father blocked her passport.
“[My father] had promised me that he would send me [to the U.S.] just for Christmas. He got me a ticket and he brought me to the airport. Then he was like, ‘Your mom blocked your passport.’ And then once I grew up, I would realize that he actually had blocked my passport,” Benetti said.
During her middle and high school years, Benetti was forced to learn how to become independent without the help of her father.
After high school, Benetti bought a plane ticket to the U.S. to see her sister, who had moved to the U.S with her mom when she got diagnosed with cancer. The distance between Benetti and her sister physically and emotionally drifted them apart.
Benetti said, “When my mom moved [to the U.S.], she took my sister. We kind of drifted apart once I was in Italy. My sister was like, ‘What the f**k, don’t you love us? I know you want to be here. So why are you saying the opposite? This is harming our family.’ That’s when we drifted apart, because she didn’t know that [my father] was abusing me emotionally. They didn’t know what was going on behind me, [making me] say that I don’t want to come to the U.S. Once my mom died, she reached out, and keep in mind, I was still in Italy, and she was here. So it was really hard.”
After moving in with her sister, Benetti enrolled into Glendale Community College with hopes of being able to transfer into the UC system.
While getting good grades, Benetti also became involved in women’s rights activism.
“In Italy, I had already [been involved with] activism, which was for a school reform, but it wasn’t the cause I was really passionate about. So I had never shown how much I loved activism until June 24, when Roe v. Wade was overturned. I don’t know why, but I just cried,” Benetti told The Bottom Line (TBL). “I wanted to go to a protest, and […] feel a sense of community with people that feel the same way I felt, especially because my family didn’t like the decision.”
The summer before her first quarter at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), Benetti attended a protest hosted by “Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where she connected with U.S. army veteran Victoria Eggers.
“We did a protest at the LACMA museum, at which [Eggers] chained herself to the LACMA poles, and got arrested. She basically wanted to tell the story that you shouldn’t make women fight in the military for a country that doesn’t even recognize them as equal to men,” Benetti stated. “The country puts [women] as second-class citizens, and that’s what she fought against. That’s kind of how we bonded, initially.”
After a few months of protesting with “Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights,” Benetti, Eggers, and two other activists founded “Give A Damn,” a women’s rights activism organization. They founded “Give A Damn” after finding out that their former organization held ties to Revolutionary Communists, a political organization that Benetti and others did not want to affiliate themselves with. “Give A Damn” was created to further their desires to fight for abortion rights.
“I went to [Eggers] and I was like, ‘Listen, this is why I think the organization is suspicious. This is why I don’t want to be part of it anymore. I still want to fight for abortions, but I just can’t do it with them.’ And she was like, ‘I actually feel exactly the same way. I’ve had the same concerns. Let’s see what we can do,’” Benetti said. “Then we got another girl that we knew, and she was a part of the foster care system. We talked and decided that we should start a new organization, invest in it, and make it a business. The fact that we all have different backgrounds really helped because we could focus on more causes than just abortion.”
Since its founding in late September, “Give A Damn” has been gaining a rapid following on Instagram throughout the nation.
Although the organization targeted college-aged students, it has since expanded to include members of various ages and across many states.
“We do have people from out of state […] We’re all different ages. We all have different jobs. We all have different expectations and responsibilities. Hopefully, [“Give A Damn”] grows, and we can learn to understand our different backgrounds. And hopefully, a lot of people can resonate with them,” Benetti said. “I think it’s hard [to recognize others’ stories and backgrounds], especially in a college environment, because you don’t know everybody, and there’s so many students. You could be a domestic violence survivor, and I might not know.”
In the future, Benetti plans to continue her activism in women’s rights in the Los Angeles area and hold her own rallies through her organization.
After graduating from UCSB, Benetti plans to pursue a career in law with hopes of becoming a criminal justice lawyer.
“The type of law that I want to study is criminal justice, and I want to become a trial lawyer for victims of rape. I want to help women have their voice heard and not just be oppressed by society,” Benetti said. “There are double standards of, if you have sex, if you open your legs, then you deserve to have the child because of it. You know, women don’t just get pregnant by themselves; there’s responsibility that’s not being given to the other side of the team that is creating a child.”
For more information about “Give A Damn,” please visit: https://giveadamnorg.wixsite.com/giveadamn
[Edited 10/27/2022 at 4:50 PM] The Bottom Line has edited this article due to concerns about its title. The original name for this series, “Humans of UCSB,” was claimed by the UCSB’s Writing Program during the spring quarter of 2022. To avoid confusion and with respect to this approved initiative, the title of TBL’s running series has been edited as such. The content of the article remains the same.