The trauma of being raped can be shattering, leaving a victim feeling alone or ashamed.
For Ashley Dowell, it took time and strength to not allow the trauma to control who she was and who she wanted to come.
To see her with Leilana, her 8-year-old daughter, she looks like an everyday mom. However, the trauma from her past is much more complicated.
“Even at the time, I didn’t really say to myself what actually happened,” shared Dowell.
It was the summer after eighth grade when Dowell, now 23-years-old, was raped by someone she knew.
“I got pregnant,” she said.
Dowell was a freshman and Wichita North High School when she had her beautiful daughter.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t take it back because I love her to death,” Dowell said smiling.
In high school, she faced challenges her classmates could never understand.
Dowell recalled always being exhausted and barely making it through the school day.
“My mental health was terrible,” she said. “I had undiagnosed mental health stuff at the time.”
Four years later, Dowell opened up to her doctor and parents about what happened.
“Once I started talking about it and realizing what happened, I was doing a lot better,” she said.
Dowell received treatment for PTSD, depression and anxiety.
She graduated from North High and went on to Wichita State University, earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education.
She also worked as a paraeducator in local school districts and at the local organization Heartspring, which works with children with special needs.
Dowell said she felt like she never saw Leilana.
Little did she know, while she wasn’t spending a lot of time with her daughter, she was inspiring her.
“She has this cool job where she gets to take care of kids with special needs,” shared Leilana.
Dowell recently joined Griffinstein Alternative Elementary, where she is the 2nd grade special education teacher.
According to Dowell, her eight-year-old brother with autism inspired her to enter special education.
“Once he started school, he was a complete different child,” she explained. “I want to do that for other kids. I want to see them grow and turn into better children.”
One of the kids Dowell wants to help is her student Ahjayla. She said everyone should want to be in Miss Dowell’s class because “she’s a good teacher.”
A beloved teacher by day, and a hard-working master’s student by night, Dowell is currently back at WSU for a degree in special education.
She may be a single mom with a busy schedule, but Dowell said this is where she is meant to be.
KSN’s Amanda Aguilar sat down with Dowell and asked, “What are you most proud of?”
“I made it,” said Dowell. “I just graduated. At the time, that was something so far in the future, it didn’t seem like it’d actually happen, but it happened.
It happened, that’s Dowell’s message to others.
Life isn’t always fair, but with strength and the right support, good things can happen.
Dowell shared that the person she is today and the things she’s accomplished are all because of her parents continued love and support, as well as resources offered in the community.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call 316-660-7540. You can also reach out to the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center at 316-263-0185.