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Abuse survivor speaks up to help others

Dawn Maestas, a victim advocate, suffered from domestic abuse for 28 years. As an esthetician, she does laser tattoo removal for women tattooed with their abusers’ names to help remove reminders of abuse. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Dawn Maestas, a victim advocate, suffered from domestic abuse for 28 years. As an esthetician, she does laser tattoo removal for women tattooed with their abusers’ names to help remove reminders of abuse. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dawn Maestas, a survivor of domestic violence, has a story that’s hard to hear.

But she continues to tell her story to local students and to international news agencies, because she knows people are still trapped in violence.

“I lost 28 years of my life. I survived to live. I refused to die,” says Maestas, 43, mother of four and grandmother of one. “I get to live my life without violence. Somewhere out there someone is so scared, they are sick. Somewhere out there, someone will lose their life, because they wanted to be loved.”

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Maestas recorded her experience on StoryCorps on NPR last year and since then she has talked to CBS, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera and many others.

She will speak in June at the National Organization of Women’s annual conference.

Recently she spoke to teacher Tom Damp’s interpersonal communication class at the Westside Central New Mexico Community College. Damp said he invited her because her StoryCorps talk was so powerful, he wanted his students to hear her.

Maestas spoke for more than hour, sharing a story that still makes her cry: “It’s good it makes me cry. I know I’m alive.”

From the time she was a young girl, she says she felt unlovable. “I thought it was true. I really was unlovable, so why did it matter?” she says.

What she came to believe about herself in childhood led her to becoming in involved in several abusive relationships, Maestas says.

She reported her abusers, but it didn’t keep her safe. Although she tried, she couldn’t find a way out.

CLARK: “I cannot believe people do this to other people”

CLARK: “I cannot believe people do this to other people”

She also harbored an unfounded hope that somehow the partner she loved would change and she would have the marriage and family she imagined: “I wanted to be loved; I gave him the benefit of the doubt.”

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It was daily fear and misery, never knowing when the next beating would occur, she says: “It was walking on eggshells.”

Reminders remain, she says on another afternoon in her office. She has seizures from the multiple head injuries, including getting her head repeatedly banged against a car door. She has daily distress and pain from organs in her abdomen and pelvis, from beatings and sexual abuse. One eye is smaller than the other and her jaw is crooked from being broken. She has arthritis, insomnia, panic attacks and fibromyalgia.

“I have a friend who fights in the ring and we compare injuries,” she says.

Maestas, a laser tattoo removal specialist, who owns D-Ink on Carlisle, is also a victims’ advocate, who helps women who have tattoos of their abusers’ names as she had, offering free services.

A victim advocate who survived domestic violence, Dawn Maestas has removed abuser tattoos from herself and others. She has a full-sleeve of tattoo art on her arm with a quote from the Holocaust Museum that she lives by: “Thou shalt not be a victim; thou shalt not be a perpetrator; thou shalt not be a bystander.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

A victim advocate who survived domestic violence, Dawn Maestas has removed abuser tattoos from herself and others. She has a full-sleeve of tattoo art on her arm with a quote from the Holocaust Museum that she lives by: “Thou shalt not be a victim; thou shalt not be a perpetrator; thou shalt not be a bystander.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

She remembers when she first started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, finally away from abusive relationships, staying with her mother and her stepfather, with her children, and on a dozen medications: “I’m a fighter. I try to see beauty in my broken pieces.”

The road to healing is long and includes community service work. She has many ongoing projects under the umbrella Dawn’s Promise. She’s working on several books. She volunteers to help women through the legal system.

A professional associate, Greg Cunningham, a retired detective who served with the Albuquerque Police Department and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s office, says in a telephone interview he vouches for Maestas and all she’s been through: “Dawn is authentic and sincere. She gives every ounce of energy to what she does.”

Maestas is working on a GPS tracking bracelet that could increase abusers’ compliance with temporary restraining orders and provide evidence to the court.

Cunningham says he supports the project: “What victims say is true, but there is no way to prove it. Data from a GPS monitor could be analyzed and would dramatically change a person’s life.”

“A lot of victims reach out to me, because they know I understand. They know I care,” Maestas says. “I was drowning and I learned how to swim. I can share that.”

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