Domestic abuse victims should never have to look at their abusers’ names etched permanently on their bodies like marks of ownership, so Dawn Maestas, an amazing and kind-hearted tattoo removal artist from Albuquerque, N.M., has been using her skills to help victims of domestic abuse by offering to erase the unwanted names of abusers free of charge.
Maestas’ clients have terrible, heartbreaking stories. Some of the tattoos are hugely visible markers that keep women from employment and prevent them from moving on. Many of them are painful, near constant reminders of physical, mental, and sexual abuse that the victims have to revisit whenever they see themselves in mirrors. Some of the women were even forcibly tattooed against their will by abusive partners who wanted to keep them prisoner forever.
“I was with a guy for five years. He was much older. He was really abusive toward me. After a while when I tried to finally end it, he kidnapped me, held me hostage and tattooed his name all over my body against my will,” said one of the women whom Maestas helped. He scrawled his name all over her body in what he thought would be a permanent statement of his control of her. But by removing the visible evidence, the victim said, Maestas freed her.
Maestas told NPR that she started removing the names for free because she lived through the experience of domestic violence and understood the effect that wearing an abuser’s name could have on a person: “Every time that you had to get dressed and undressed, you would have to look at that tattoo and know where it came from,” she said.
Maestas said her own ex would often reference the tattoo of his name that she had as though it meant she was his property. “So, you know, it’s not just a tattoo,” she explained. “It’s … like being in a car accident — every time you pass that intersection you remember the impact.”
Her client, who wished to remain anonymous, said Maestas’ generosity and understanding helped her feel like her body was her own. “I don’t feel like this prisoner in my body anymore,” she said. “You just helped me in so many ways.”