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Wednesday, October 01, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,

Ashley Elizabeth Dowser

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Thinking of Ashley, as they walk in her shoes

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - Updated: 10:15 AM

By CAROLINE MURRAY

caroline.murray@recordernews.com

Ashley Elizabeth Dowser had a bright and promising future. At age 11, she was on North Carolina's Junior Olympic Team for swimming and was famous for her butterfly.

Throughout middle school and high school Dowser was first chair violin in the symphony chamber orchestra and graduated summa cum laude from the International Academy in Michigan.

She attended Michigan State University and majored in political science. During her junior year of college, she was a field organizer for President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and was responsible for 16,000 volunteers. She later went on to work for Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection initiative.

Dowser was a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend.

And in 2008, she became a victim of sexual assault.

Dowser passed away Nov. 24, 2012 , at the age of 26; five years after she was raped by four college football players.

Her family only learned about the rape six months before she died.

In honor of Dowser, Amsterdam resident Laurie Druziak has organized a Walk in THEIR Shoes event to take place Saturday at Shuttleworth Park -- a walk for victims of sexual assault, their families and friends.

Dowser's mother, former Amsterdam resident and 1971 Wilbur H. Lynch High School graduate Elizabeth Czelusniak Huxley, is participating in the Nashville Sexual Assault Center's Walk in THEIR Shoes 5K the same day.

"The goal, in my opinion, is for her daughter's memory and to feel like we have done something to prevent this from happening to another person," Druziak said. "If we can affect or change or help one person it is all worth it."

Druziak is a life-long friend of Huxley's. They grew up on Amsterdam's Division Street and attended kindergarten through 12 grade together, but lost touch after graduation.

Druziak said the two reconnected through Facebook years later and get together when Huxley visits the area.

She wanted to walk alongside Huxley in Nashville on Saturday, but unfortunately could not make the trip this year.

Instead, Druziak organized a Walk in THEIR Shoes event in Shuttleworth Park in memory of Dowser and the thousands of other women and men who are victims of sexual assault each year.

"I thought about it for a couple of days and the thought popped up in my head: We can still walk, we will just walk here," Druziak said.

The walk begins at 10 a.m. at the park. Commemorative t-shirts will be sold and a balloon release will be held.

Druziak said this year, all proceeds will go toward the Nashville Sexual Assault Center.

The hope is by next May, the walk will garner enough interest to secure the Fulton-Montgomery Community College campus as the event's host. Druziak said she did not have the time or funds to organize it on campus this year.

Huxley recently moved to Nashville, and said she regularly volunteers at the center. She finds strength sharing her daughter's story and by helping other victims of sexual assault.

"I am finally my daughter's voice," Huxley said. "I want to give all survivors a voice. Rape culture it is not a culture, it is a crime."

Huxley said the final months of her daughter's life were spent in and out of hospitals in Michigan.

Dowser received treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- a disorder most commonly associated with survivors of war -- but can develop in any person who goes through the threat of or actual physical harm.

Huxley said her daughter fell into a deep depression after she stopped working for the Alliance for Climate Protection initiative in 2010.

That is when Huxley noticed a rapid decline in Dowser's attitude and demeanor, but was not certain what sparked the change.

She said her daughter started to abuse alcohol and had no interest in going back to school.

Huxley said six months before her death, Dowser told her family about the rape; the incident happened in 2008, right before she left school to work for President Obama's campaign.

At the time, Dowser would not divulge the football players' names and would not go to a rape crisis prevention center.

She passed away in November 2012 due to medication mismanagement -- just days after being released from the hospital.

At the time, Huxley and her husband, Michael Huxley, were in Italy visiting her family. Dowser was with her boyfriend and father of her 3-year-old son when she passed away. Huxley said he called for an ambulance an hour after she died.

The details are not clear, but Huxley said the boyfriend could have done more to save her daughter's life.

After she passed, Dowser's two brothers, Christopher, 36, and Jacob, 20, found her diary under a spare tire in the trunk of her car that outlined the details of her rape, including the names of the four football players who attacked her.

"She named the four men. I know their names, they are all on Facebook and on Twitter," Huxley said.

Today, Huxley is working with a district attorney's office in Nashville on her daughter's case. Although the DA encouraged Huxley to report to Michigan State University, she understands not much legally can be done.

However, the information may be valuable if one or more of the football players chooses to attack again.

"These guys have assaulted before, and if they do it again they will have my daughter's diary and it would be easier to make a conviction," Huxley said.

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Walk in THEIR Shoes events in Amsterdam and Nashville pay homage to the month-long campaign, but sexual assault awareness should not end there, Huxley said.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey there is an average of 237,868 victims age 12 or older who are raped or sexually assaulted each year.

Out of 100 rapes, only 40 are reported to the police. Ninety-seven percent of rapists are never convicted of their crime.

And on average, one in five women who attend college have reported being sexually assaulted.

For that reason, last week a women's self-defense class sponsored by Amsterdam Police Department was held at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. APD Sgt. Owen Fuhs said all women, young and old, are susceptible to sexual assault.

The class focused on sexual assault prevention, but if unavoidable, Fuhs said it was most important to survive a rape.

"You have to understand there is a person out there that wants to hurt you that wants to take advantage of you and it is not your fault," Fuhs said to a room full of women ages 18 to 60. "You must survive the attack."

Druziak attended the self-defense class last week.

She said she participated to find out what crime victim services are available in the area, such as the Catholic Charities of Fulton & Montgomery Counties, and to support her friend Huxley.

"Having to live through this and seeing how it affects her, my life can never be the same," Druziak said. "It is like she says, 'It is like trying to laugh and smile when inside I am crying.'"

     

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