Ashley Ventrillo has always been passionate about women’s rights but she didn’t know how to turn that interest into a career. That is, until she came to UMass Lowell and majored in public health.
“Global Health and Social Determinants of Health were the two courses that I learned the most from and they ultimately guided me to my chosen career,” says Ventrillo, who works as a victim witness advocate for the Essex District Attorney’s Office. “I liked the public health program because it exposed me to so many different issues happening in the world today. I learned about global warming, racism, sexism, unequal access to health care, the political system and so much more.”
During the Global Health course, one of the required readings was “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” authored by New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book changed her life.
“This book touched me. It made me angry, it made me cry, but most of all, it has em-powered me to carry out my life’s mission,” says Ventrillo.
Two internships during her senior year helped her find her career path. The first, as a court service center intern at Lawrence District Court, was part of her capstone course. She worked alongside attorneys and helped people navigate their legal cases. Her duties included helping victims of domestic violence fill out restraining orders and accompanying them to court.
“I learned about so many different challenges people face, such as eviction, divorce, child custody, domestic violence, small claims, alcoholism, mental health issues, trauma, drug use and so much more,’’ she said.
She decided she wanted to work exclusively with victims of domestic violence. She got an opportunity to do that during her second internship as a victim witness advocate intern. The experience confirmed that this was the career for her.
At the end of her last semester at UML, she landed an interview via Zoom for a position as a victim witness advocate and was hired by the Essex District Attorney’s Office in the midst of the pandemic.
“I want justice for women and justice for all survivors of abuse and oppression,” she says. “I felt the best way to learn about the law and justice was through the court system.”
Looking ahead, she’s studying for the LSAT exam to apply to law school.
“I want to gain justice for victims of abuse and demolish the human trafficking system,” she says. “Nothing would fulfill me more, and I am so driven to make an impact.”