Sexual assault survivor inspiring teen moms to pursue education

Published: April 21, 2020 Author: George E. Mauzy Jr.

Content Warning: Although no details are included, readers should be aware that this article references sexual assault.


Life has not been easy recently for 18-year-old Ohio University freshman Kylie Duncan, but that has not stopped her from pursuing her dreams of earning her college degree.

At the tender age of 13, a series of sexual assaults left her as a teen mom. Now she is defeating the odds by pursuing a college degree as one of OHIO’s Appalachian Scholars.

 

Before the baby

Before she became pregnant, Kylie lived the life of a typical teenager in the small southeastern Ohio town of Jackson. She played competitive volleyball and golf and played the flute in the band. She also loved spending time with her family and friends.

Kylie grew up with her older sister, Kennedy, a senior childhood education major at OHIO, who describes her as the baby of the family.

“As her older sister, I always thought of her as a baby, because she used to complain a lot,” Kennedy said. “When we found out she was going to have a baby, we all thought, ‘How is she going to do that.’”

At that time of Kylie’s pregnancy, she and her sister were living with their father, Tom, an independent home builder. Their mother, Jessica, had been released from prison about a month earlier and was living in Jackson with her parents. She served time for drug charges.

Through most of the girls’ childhood, their mother struggled with drug addiction and spent many days in jail and rehabilitation facilities.

“Our mom’s addiction was our first struggle,” Kennedy said. “My dad told me I couldn’t let Kylie know about our mom’s addiction and asked me to help him shield her from it. That means I had to grow up quick.”

Kennedy said she appreciates doing that now because Kylie had to grow up quick after the baby came.

“It’s a give and take now, which I didn’t see in the long run,” Kennedy said. “I was mad about it when I was young because Kylie got to be babied and live as a kid. Now I couldn’t do what she does.”

Despite their troubles, Kennedy and Kylie remained close.

“We both struggled with our mom’s addiction and confided in each other,” Kennedy said. “We fought like cats and dogs as sisters often do, but now we call each other four or five times a day.”

 

Kylie Duncan with her friend Aurelia Johnson
Kylie (right) chats with her friend Aurelia Johnson in Uptown Athens.

 

The Surprise Pregnancy

Kylie’s life turned upside down in November 2014 when her mother drove her to Holzer Medical Center in Jackson to be tested for endometriosis. Jessica and Kennedy had already suffered from it.

She remembers her test results taking almost two hours to come back. To everyone’s surprise, it came back positive. The middle schooler was told that she was more than eight months pregnant.

The news left Kylie and her family shocked and confused.

“I felt like I was too young to have a child and knew the kids at school would make fun of me,” Kylie said.

After the pregnancy diagnosis, the Duncans scheduled a family meeting to discuss their next steps.

After some intense yelling, screaming and tears, Kylie told her family that she had been sexually assaulted.

To this day, Kylie said she vaguely remembers the sexual assaults because she has tried to block them out.

 

What’s the plan?

Now it was time for the family to figure out a plan for Kylie to have the baby and finish middle school.

After much discussion and back and forth, the Duncans devised a plan. Kylie would tell her friends that she was very sick and quarantined, which would allow her to stay at home from school and not accept visitors until after the birth.

Kylie would then tell everyone that her mother had a newborn and the family would raise the baby as her sibling. If successful, the plan would protect the still immature teenager from shame and public judgment.

“We wanted Kylie to have her childhood and still enjoy being a kid,” Kennedy said.

 

Trouble with the pregnancy

Kylie became bedridden with preeclampsia almost immediately after finding out she was pregnant. The sometimes-fatal condition causes high-blood pressure, swelling of the hands and feet, headaches, and abdominal pain.

Her bad luck continued. In addition to being extremely sick a few weeks before giving birth, her doctor told her she was having a girl after the first ultrasound. Kyle said her family bought clothes and items for a baby girl before finding out she was actually having a boy.

 

Forget the plan!

Kylie said everything changed once she gave birth to her son, Kameron, in early February 2015. She said as soon as she looked into his face for the first time, she could not deny being his mother.

“Once I seen him and held him, it all became real to me," she said. "I told my mom, ‘he’s mines!’”

Kennedy affirmed Kylie’s reaction to seeing her son for the first time.

“As soon as she had Kameron in her arms, she said this is my baby,” Kennedy said. “It was instant! She was in mama bear mode.”

 

Kylie Duncan at Women's Ensemble practice with Kameron
Kameron hugs his mother during Women's Ensemble practice.

 

Back to school as a mom

Kylie said the whole pregnancy ordeal was difficult to talk about when she returned to school after spring break. Some of her classmates were spreading rumors that she became pregnant because of promiscuity, while others joked that she committed sexual assault to become pregnant.

She admitted that the jokes and rumors hurt her feelings, but said she has no regrets about her decision to claim  Kameron as her son.

“He makes me who I am, and I don't know if I would have attended college without him," Kylie said. “Kameron is my motivation. He keeps me determined to not become another teen mom statistic.

According to the Center for Disease Control, teen pregnancy and childbearing bring substantial social and economic costs through immediate and long-term impacts on teen parents and their children.

  • About 50 percent of teen moms receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age, whereas approximately 90 percent of women who do not give birth during adolescence graduate from high school.
  • The children of teenage mothers are also more likely to have lower school achievement and drop out of high school, health problems, become incarcerated at a young age and face unemployment as a young adult.

Other national statistics reveal that less than 2 percent of teen moms earn a college degree before they turn 30 and about 80 percent will be dependent on welfare at some time during their life.

“She breaks every statistic for single moms and kids who have parents with addiction,” Kennedy said. “Not only did she graduate high school, she’s on her way to graduating from college.”

More problems

Kylie said she experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and depression days after Kameron was born. She describes a time when loud noises, including the sound of a washing machine, would cause her body to freeze up.

“It's hard to admit you need help,” Kylie said. “The good news is that after some therapy sessions, I overcame it.”

 

Kylie Duncan son Kameron drawing at Women's Ensemble
Kameron draws during his mother's Women's Ensemble practice.

 

Family Life with Kameron

Since December 2018, Kylie and Kameron have lived together in an apartment in Jackson. She describes the 5-year-old as loving and sweet and said his preschool teachers consider him one of their smartest students. He loves playing with toy cars and watching episodes of Blaze and the Monster Machines and PAW Patrol.

Kennedy admits that she has also bonded with Kameron and always looks forward to babysitting him.

“I love Kameron so much – we’re besties. He’s so funny!” Kennedy said.

Kylie said she is extremely blessed and fortunate that her family and friends have been so supportive.

Through all the tough times, she said her sister has been her number one supporter and role model.

“Kennedy has always encouraged me to keep going toward my dreams despite the setbacks,” Kylie said.

Kylie admits that raising a young child as a college student has presented many challenges. In addition to her family, Kylie has received support from others in her circle of friends.

Samantha Lamka, Kylie’s peer mentor in OHIO’s Office of Multicultural Student Access and Retention’s LINKS program, remembers a time when she was asked to babysit Kameron.

“It was not so she could relax or go out with friends – she had a big exam and no one else was able to watch him,” Lamka said. “I was happy to do it and it dawned on me that this is something she must face every day. She has the responsibilities of any other college student and on top of that, she must care for her son.”

Lamka said she loves how Kylie has managed the difficulties that life has thrown at her.

“She seems to know that everything will work out in the end,” Lamka said.She's a brave, strong person who isn't afraid to laugh at herself. She's an anomaly in a society that focuses so much on themselves and their struggles.”

While the COVID-19 quarantine has been challenging for everyone, Kylie said it has not changed her life dramatically, because most of her spring semester classes were already online.

“I’m feeling less stressed now because I’m spending more time with Kameron,” she said. “We get up in the morning and take a walk – then we both do our schoolwork. In the evening, we have time to relax together.”

 

Kylie Duncan in Alden Library
Kylie studying at Alden Library during a break in classes last fall.

 

The Appalachian Scholarship

Kylie credits OHIO’s Appalachian Scholarship for allowing her to attend college.

She credits Betty Miller, an English teacher at Jackson High School, for letting her know about the scholarship and writing her a letter of recommendation.

"She pushed me to step up my game for Kameron," Kylie said. "She is also the one who asked me to look up teen pregnancy statistics and that's when I found out that most teen mothers don't attend college."

Kylie said Miller got her attention by asking her what she really wanted in life.

In her application for the scholarship, Kylie explained how the "Me Too" movement inspired her to pursue her college education and help others who have been a victim of sexual assault.

She recalled how happy she was when she found out in April 2019 that she was awarded the competitive scholarship that combined with financial aid, covers all of her college expenses.

"I cried because I really wanted to go to the Athens campus, but didn't know how I could afford it,” Kylie said. “It has helped me reduce the financial stress of taking care of a kid as a single mom."

Dr. Marlene De La Cruz-Guzman, director of OMSAR, describes Kylie as an intelligent, diligent, involved, and service-oriented student who excels because she has prioritized education in her life.

“Those things combined with her focus on Appalachian women’s education, made her an outstanding candidate,” De La Cruz-Guzman said.

 

Kylie Duncan walks uptown with Kameron
Appalachian Scholar Kylie Duncan walks uptown with her son, Kameron.

 

College and life goals

On campus, Kylie is an active member of the Ohio University Women's Ensemble and 4 Paws for Ability, which trains service dogs for people with disabilities.

One of Kylie’s short-term goals is to host a TED Talks lecture on how to persevere when the odds are against you. She also wants to continue encouraging teen moms to finish high school and never stop pursuing their dreams.

After beginning her freshman year as a psychology major, Kylie recently changed her major to social work because she wants a job that allows her to help other people overcome their struggles in life.

“My main goal is to help people any way I can,” she emphatically said. “In any way, shape or form!”