SOUTHINGTON — Shia Hilliker of New Britain was the victim of sexual abuse as a teenager. For years, she was reluctant to talk about it.
“It’s been really hard to get close to people and trust them, but I’ve been better recently,” she said, adding that initiatives like the #MeToo movement have helped her break her silence. “Honestly, 10 years ago I never could have pictured the climate being this friendly and welcoming.
“I think it’s a lot easier to talk about now,” Hilliker continued. “There used to be kind of a stigma behind it, where it was kind of shameful to talk about. Lately, I feel like a lot of people have been more open and it’s inspired me to do the same.”
Hilliker wore more than her heart on her sleeve Sunday. She received a new tattoo — a rose with the words, “Love Yourself,” above the flower — at Plantsville’s Phoenix Ink Tattoo, 991 S. Main St.
The tattoo shop held a fundraiser for the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, offering discounted tattoos to walk-in customers for $100, $150 and $200, with all proceeds going to the organization.
Phoenix Tattoo artist Dave Nielson organized the local event, which was part of “Still Not Asking For It,” a worldwide tattoo flash fundraiser that started in 2015 to raise money and awareness for sexual assault and rape victims.
Phoenix customers had about 60 designs, many with messages such as “No Means No,” and four tattoo artists from which to choose on Sunday.
Nielson said his goal was to raise about $3,500 for the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
“This is our first year being a part of it,” he said. “It’s for a good cause that always needs help. It is not just a day of tattoos. I think it is important to have this discussion. Nothing gets addressed unless it’s out in the open.”
The shop opened at 10 a.m. Nielsen said that when he arrived around 9 a line was already formed outside the door.
“They came because of the cause,” he said.
Hilliker and her friend, Edwin Rivera of New Britain, were two of Nielsen’s early customers.
“It’s impacted me personally, so I really appreciate these kinds of events,” Hilliker said. “I feel like it’s good to get a conversation going about this kind of thing.”
Rivera said he visited the business to support Hilliker and to get a tattoo that had special meaning. He got a planchette with the word, “No,” scrawled above it.
“It’s nice ink and it’s for a great cause,” Rivera said. “It helps out people who have dealt with sexual violence in the past or people who still might be suffering through sexual violence. It’s a way to let people know that there is no shame, that a lot of people have been through it, and that you don’t have to fight this battle by yourself.”
Tammy Gould made the trek from Ansonia to Plantsville to get new ink.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she said as she tried to select the perfect image and the perfect spot on her body. “It’s really important because, for so many people, sexual violence goes unnoted and unsaid. They just keep it hidden inside. The more we voice it, the better off we will all be. These tattoos are a way for people to stand up and say I’m stronger because of what I’ve been through. It’s a statement.”