“However long it takes you to tell your story, take your time. Take your time, take your breath, take your moment. It’s your story, nobody else’s…until you’re ready to release it. Then it becomes the world’s.” — Rosie Perez, Until the Violence Stops
My name is Ashley Malia Cole. I am 22 years old, I am a daughter, I am a sister, I am a student, I am a woman, and I am a survivor.
It has taken me four years to be able to say those last four words without crying or shaking with terror, but I can say them now.
I was scared into silence for two and a half years after I was raped.
I first got involved with V-Day when I was 17 years old and a senior in high school. Three months after performing with a group of my peers and mentors in The Vagina Monologues for the first time, I was raped by a man I had previously considered a friend.
I was raised right. I was taught to be a strong, empowered, independent woman. I was taught to take precautions to not become a victim. I was taught about the unfortunate world we live in, where rape happens. I was given all the tools needed to avoid being attacked.
And it still happened.
I was so ashamed. I was furious. I was hopeless. I was also silent. How could I look into the eyes of these women and tell them that they had failed? That everything they tried to protect me from had happened? That the very fight they were fighting for, the world they were trying to create was broken and standing right in front of them, completely drained of hope?
I couldn’t. I was furious with the world, and with myself. I couldn’t admit to myself or to anyone that I was a survivor for a very long time.
I continued to work with V-Day San Diego to end violence in hopes that what happened to me would never have to happen to anyone else. It wasn’t until 2010 when I performed the Spotlight Monologue “A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Surviving Sex Slavery” that I realized that I could do so much more for this movement by being honest with myself and with the world than I could by just being angry and ashamed about what happened to me.
Before I could speak the words as the truth for myself, I spoke them through Marta, the narrator in that 2010 Spotlight Monologue. Marta gave me my voice when I feared that I would never be able to find it again on my own. She let me say the words out loud for the first time, even though at that moment I was the only one who knew that they were true. Marta set me free; she released me from the silent prison I was trapped in. She allowed me to accept the words “I was raped” as my own personal truth. She helped me start to heal my wounds and begin my journey as a survivor.
In 2011, I was asked to present the “Survivor Stand” at the end of one of the performances. Every year, at the end of each show performed during V-Day San Diego, someone in the cast stands before the audience and shares his or her story. These performers tell the audience that they are survivors. Then, they ask anyone present in the audience who has ever been affected by violence to stand with them and break the silence. Then, they ask anyone present who knows anyone who has been affected by violence to stand with the survivors in support of them. Lastly, they ask anyone who is not yet standing to please rise in solidarity with everyone else to say that what happened to these people is wrong and that it has to stop.
That was the moment I broke the silence. That was the moment my story became the world’s story. That was the moment I knew that I was not alone. That was the moment I saved a life. That was the moment I saved my life.
What happened to me was wrong. But it is still happening to people around the world. Every second someone else becomes a victim or a survivor of violence.
And the fact is, yes, I was raped.
But, I survived.
That is why I rise. That is why I had to break the silence and stand up – because I am a survivor. There are so many souls who aren’t able to rise and use their voice. I do this for them, the ones who have had their voices taken from them and the ones who are still forced, trapped, or scared into silence.
I rise in the hopes that if I use my voice to tell my story, that I can save someone or give them the strength and the courage to stand up and rise with me, and tell the world that what happened to us and what is still happening is wrong and has got to stop.
Ashley Malia Cole is a 22-year-old theatre arts major at Grossmont College. She was first exposed to V-Day in 2006 through a youth theatre troupe under the direction of Wendy Maples. Two years later, she was onstage in her first performance of The Vagina Monologues with the teenage girls of Step UP Theatre and veteran warriors who mentored the girls into the movement. Ashley has been involved with both productions and performances of V-Day San Diego every year since. This will be her sixth V-Day season. Ashley can be seen on stage this year in The Vagina Monologues under the direction of Rhiannon Jones at Eveoke Dance Theatre Feb 28th-March 3.
But first, she will be dancing on February 14, 2013.