Ashley Love is a wildly talented Salt Lake City based tattoo artist who specializes in traditional style tattooing with a focus on feminist undertones. She also recently held her second annual Still Not Asking For It event this past Sunday, October 23rd. A benefit for the Joyful Heart Foundation, Still Not Asking For It is a flash event and fundraiser to raise awareness and visibility for sexual abuse and assault victims. In the past two years alone, Still Not Asking For It has raised close to $30,000 to aid survivors in their recovery process. It’s a wonderful event that has helped countless survivors cope with their realities, but until now Love has never publicly disclosed why this particular subject is so near and dear to her heart.
With full hearts, and our undying support, Love has chosen to recount her own personal experiences with sexual assault, and why it is of the utmost importance to bring sexual assault, victim shaming, and rape culture out of the shadows. The following are her own unapologetically honest and beautiful words:
The other night after the event in NYC I was actually talking to Andy Perez about this. He said to me, "One of the big goals of this event is to keep the conversation going, right? So why aren't you talking about it?" We have had this conversation before and I didn't really have an answer. I could say I didn't know where to say it or I'm not good with words — but those are excuses and beside the point. The real reason is that it's hard to talk about. So I'm happy you've asked. Here we go...
A few years ago I was working at New York Adorned with some people who are, to this day, some of my favorite people. Among them was a guy who I considered a very close friend, maybe even a best friend. We had previously worked together at Thicker Than Water and I even rallied for him to get the job at Adorned. He and I traveled quite a bit together. We were on a trip to Spain and France for guest spots and tattoo conventions when I realized that to him I was not a friend. I was an object.
It was not out of the ordinary for he and I to sleep in the same bed while traveling, out of convenience to save money. On one of the first nights that we were in Europe I woke up to him holding me by my wrist and putting my hand on his erect penis. I resisted, and it did not go beyond that. Despite the apology he gave me, within the week I woke up again to him putting his hand down my pants. Once again, I was able to push him away and slept on the floor for the rest of the night. There were no spare rooms in our hotel, so I got a cot for the remainder of our stay, but even so, I was stuck 3,000 miles away from the safety and comfort of home. I had to look at his face everyday. I had to be professional while working, and act casual around friends. I felt like I was losing my mind by the time I got home.
You will never catch me saying that what I experienced was anywhere close to worst-case scenario, but that does not change the fact that wounds were created. I was hurt, confused, sad, and mad. I felt alone, abandoned, betrayed, gross, and guilty.
This experience may seem like my main reason for putting on the event, but it's not. The aftermath of this incident proved to be just as painful to me. Over the following months, I told a handful of people what had happened. I didn't go telling this story around town, but I did feel the need to talk and word got around... that's how it goes. The reactions I got were extremely mixed. I got so much support from many people, and I appreciated it so much. It helps me to this day. I also got responses that surprised me. "Well, you were in a bed with him." Or, "Come on, it's 'so & so.' Are you surprised?"
Many people acted like they cared to my face, but still continued to be his friend. When confronted about it, one mutual friend of ours said, "I wasn't in the room, so I really can't take sides."
He now works for a man who heard the news of the incident directly from the boss we shared at the time. The entire thing seems to have affected his life very little, but mine has been changed tremendously.
It was such a harsh realization that some people really didn't care. I felt so devalued. People were saying that I was overreacting, and blowing things out of proportion. I never said anything other than the facts. I would love it if this didn’t happen to me, but It did. I was not trying to add any drama into this world. I was simply trying to deal with this violating experience.
All of this caused me to have even more feelings that I wasn't prepared for. I felt like I was defending myself, defending my story, and defending the validity of my feelings. As if the incident alone wasn't enough to make me feel horrible, now I had to deal with feeling invalidated by other people.
The tattoo world is pretty tight-knit. Most of my friends are tattooers and if I was going out and being social, it was usually with tattooers. This tattooer in particular was immediately let go from Adorned when we returned home from that trip, I found myself terrified of bumping into him — and also terrified of what my "friends" were thinking and saying about me. In a male dominated industry, I felt like most people were silently taking his side. If I saw someone post a photo with him or converse with him on social media I felt like they had chosen to support him over me.
The selfish side of Still Not Asking For It is getting a bunch of friends and colleagues together, who take this issue as seriously as I do, to stand up with me to put the word out that experiences like mine are not okay. The support alone is so gratifying to me.
On a more broad note this same action, the unity of these men and women, standing up in this “rough and tough” industry, and saying it's not okay to take advantage of another person, is something that needs to be seen. I realized one day that my tattoo career had given me a voice. I may not be a writer or speaker, but I can get my thoughts out in other ways.
I want survivors to know that they are not alone. I want them to know that they are valuable and their feelings are justified. I want predators to know that they are the odd ones out. I want those who do not condemn known predators to recognize that they are wrong. This is not an issue to be dismissed, belittled, or swept under the rug.
So I guess overall, my motivation for all of this is the fact that this is the loudest way for me to scream, "It's not okay!"
I want to help create an environment where this is all easier to talk about. I don't want shame to be such a prominent feeling in these situations.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, "one in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to the authorities." The more we as a community continue the ongoing discussion of sexual violence and bring it out of the shadows, the less there will be a need for events like Still Not Asking For It. It’s a slow burn that will undoubtedly take some time, but together we can eradicate sexual violence in our lifetime.
We thank Ashley Love for sharing her story with us, you can find out more about her art and activism via Instagram. To find out more about The Joyful Heart Foundation, their programs and services, or to make a donation, please visit their website.