Celebrating 20 Years – Ashly’s Story
Please be advised: this story contains accounts of abuse.
Ashly Ash is a legal assistant; her work supports all staff at Legal Aid of WV’s (LAWV) Morgantown Office and occasionally reaches beyond.
You can also find Ashly sitting with clients, listening to their stories and offering encouragement. She knows from personal experience that clients who walk through the doors are often at the lowest, darkest place they have known.
She was one of those clients herself 5 years ago.
Ashly has come a long way, but she admits it was a difficult journey.
“It took me a long time to realize I was being abused. I don’t think I would have had the strength to go through with leaving if I had to do it on my own. The only thing that made me leave was seeing the fear in my daughter’s face. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have left.”
She met her ex-husband at a luncheon for her college. They had both been previously married, and he pursued her persistently, was charming, and said all the right things.
About a year later, Ashly got pregnant with her daughter. They got married, and they lived with one of his stepsons full-time, and another stepson when Ashly’s husband had custody.
“Maybe there were little red flags but nothing big. I didn’t see the signs,” she says. “I just gotten home from the hospital; I had a c-section with my daughter.”
That’s when the physical abuse started. While she was an exhausted new mother, Ashly also had to manage the new danger in her own home. Her ex slowly got more abusive, choking her, spitting on her, and continuing to escalate his verbal abuse. He would yell at her for spending money and keep her away from her daughter by threatening consequences or physically holding her back.
He would yell and get physical with his stepson, and Ashly would step in to protect him, taking the abuse herself instead.
“I should have left then. I know that,” Ashly says. “He had me so broken. It’s hard to admit to yourself you’re being abused, and you get mad at yourself that you even got there. But it’s gradual, and I was so isolated.”
Ashly felt like she did not have it as bad as others. In many ways, she did not even recognize she was being abused because it had become her new normal. It was how it felt in her home—so it became home, and her ex-husband knew how to keep it that way.
It was four years before it came to a breaking point.
One night, her ex came home after a night of drinking, looking to pick a fight. This time, he chose to attack their daughter.
“He was grabbing her arm, pulling her,” says Ashly. “I could take it. But when he did it to my daughter, I thought, ‘That’s it.’ I left and never went back.”
Ashly and her daughter went to her parents’ house, where Ashly called the police. The officer who responded told her about the resources available and recommended that she file a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO) as soon as possible.
The next day, Ashly went to the courthouse by herself and filed a DVPO against her husband.
“It was very emotional to file. It was scary. I loved this person.”
They asked if she wanted to press charges, and she said she did not want him to be arrested. “I didn’t know what would happen to my stepson,” she says.
Throughout the process, RDVIC (Rape and Domestic Violence Information) worked with Ashly and referred her to LAWV, where she was assigned an attorney for her case.
“At first, I thought, ‘Do I need a lawyer? It is going to make him mad?’ It took a while for me to trust others,” says Ashly. “But working with my attorney was really good. I had someone on my side. My ex knew exactly what to say to make me shut down, so I would not have kept going without their support. I would have done whatever I could not to rock the boat.”
RDVIC provided resources like counseling and support, and LAWV helped Ashly get a divorce.
During the pandemic, Ashly put herself through school and got a paralegal degree. She started looking for work and saw that LAWV was hiring a legal assistant and applied right away.
“I have a passion for this work,” she says. “It’s hard for attorneys; they don’t always have time to talk to clients, so I do. A lot of the time, they just need someone to listen, encourage, and validate them. It’s a process, and it’s a long one. The one thing I tell our clients is to be patient with themselves.
“Working at Legal Aid has really helped me heal. Being able to help others with my own experience—I know I don’t have to be a victim anymore, but it’s okay now to admit that I was. I was able to let go of the anger and bitterness I was holding onto toward myself, him, and other people for not seeing the abuse.”
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Ashly wants West Virginians to know: there is help. Resources like RDVIC and LAWV are available close to home. You do not have to be alone. Before Ashly was able to break out of her situation, she had no idea programs existed to help her or that what she was experiencing—being yelled at, threatened, and intentionally isolated—was abuse.
“What I want people to know is it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to ask for help. And as much as you feel alone, you’re not.”