You might be familiar with Albuquerque's Unchained Valkyries. Formerly known as Tattooed Women Are Beautiful, this alternative beauty group is active within the city's community of sexual assault and domestic violence survivors, promoting women to reclaim their sexuality, feel confident in their bodies, and network with other survivors. Their mission is to provide resources and opportunities for victims of sexual assault, while also empowering them to recover the strength to regain their bodies and lives. Part of this empowerment takes the form of their annual calendar fundraiser, in which survivors are encouraged to show off their tattoos and embrace their sexuality in a boudoir-inspired photo shoot. Held every two years, and taking inspiration from alternative beauty found in goth and rockabilly cultures, the Unchained Valkyries host this photo shoot for tattooed survivors and then compile the photos into a calendar that can be purchased. The sales from this calendar are then donated to local nonprofit organizations that provide sexual assault and domestic violence services, ensuring that the money generated by survivors directly benefits other survivors.
Albuquerque SANE is lucky enough to be one of these beneficiaries, and in this interview with the organization's founder, Deziree Hardin, we explore more about the world of the Unchained Valkyries, what prompted their group's makeover, and Dez's own experiences as a sexual assault survivor.
The last time I interviewed you, we were discussing Tattooed Women Are Beautiful. I understand that your name has now changed into the Unchained Valkyries, but is still the same organization with the same core mission. What is that core mission?
DH: To unite survivors who want to break free of their chains and show who they are with pride. To show the world that change is on the horizon and we are bringing awareness to the masses. It may be unconventional to some but for each lady who participates in the calendar, it is an empowerment and freedom of expression.
Can you tell me a little bit about the decision for this name change?
DH: Yes! Tattooed women ARE beautiful but this mission is more than that. We have broken free of the chains that bind us to our past traumas. We are sick of the bullshit and we are not backing down any longer. Our abusers only made us stronger, a force to be reckoned with. Bad move on their part.
Are other members also survivors? And why the imagery of Valkyries, specifically?
DH: Absolutely, every member has had some sort of abuse... mostly sexual unfortunately. And we chose Valkyries because we are strong and we are fighters. We are the force that will bring awareness and do as much as we can to protect those that need it. Legends talk about Valkyries taking the souls of those who have died a warrior's death. We are all warriors, we are strong, we are protectors. We carry our fallen.
Naturally, sexual violence is a triggering subject for many people, and while you have always been very open and candid about your own assault, there’s definitely survivors out there who are not at the same point yet. In fact, it’s common for survivors to have multiple obstacles when it comes to disclosing their abuse and getting support afterward, and that’s partly why the Unchained Valkyries work so hard to offer resources for New Mexicans. In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about sexual assault?
DH: That it’s the victim's fault. Are you fucking kidding me? No, it is the abusers who can’t keep their dicks in
their pants. We are so fed up. So fed up we want to organize a Slut Walk in April of 2022. Stop the mansplaining, stop the victim blaming, make the abusers responsible and make them pay.
Is there anything you wish you could change about this inaccuracy?
DH: I wish I could reach inside of the minds of these people and wake them the fuck up! Welcome to reality.
This is a good segue into talking about our own state’s duty to better support survivors. Mayor Tim Keller had signed an executive order to clear New Mexico’s backlog of evidence kits, and nearly 75% of all those untested kits were from our own crime lab up here in Albuquerque. As of this year, 100% of the backlog has officially been sent out for DNA testing.
You’ve mentioned previously that your own kit was actually part of this backlog, and you were one of the survivors that this order directly affected. Could you share your experience with being part of that backlog? To start, can you tell us a little bit about who you were when the evidence kit was collected?
DH: I was a 14 year old child fed liquor until I blacked out. The second, I woke up with someone fucking me from behind. I was so shocked and scared I laid there and pretended I was asleep. I left the next morning and guess what? My friends said, "well you shouldn’t have been there"... Wow, awesome friends.
How does that 14-year-old girl compare to the woman you are now?
DH: [Now I'm] cautious, ferocious, angry, determined. No one will every fuck with me again and not be taken down in the process. They will be sorry.
Let's talk about the recent changes to our city's evidence backlog. What happened when you got that phone call regarding the results of your kit that was finally tested in 2021?
DH: I was shocked, so shocked I couldn’t even speak. So many emotions came flooding back to the surface.
And who had called you? A victim advocate? A detective?
DH: A liaison from APD.
What kind of emotions did you feel during the conversation?
DH: You name it, I felt it. I cried. I immediately thought of all the women who were receiving these calls and how they must feel. I can’t even imagine. I wasn’t even thinking about myself at that moment, just the thousands of others.
Did you feel better or worse after the call?
DH: I felt fucked up. I cannot even begin to explain the emotions that went through me. It was awesome to know that these were finally tested... but it is 27 years too late.
Do you think anything could be improved about this process for the next survivor?
DH: Um, how about testing the kits and taking victims seriously. No stalling, no sitting on their asses doing absolutely nothing for 27 years.
Let’s finish this interview by focusing back on our fellow survivors. Healing is a nonlinear journey, and for many, it can take years to move forward from assault. To end on a lighter note, can you share what healing looks like to you? And, on your worst days, what helped you cope and get through it?
DH: Time, support, belief, people to listen, and overall finding my tribe of survivors. [What got me through my worst days was] liquor, but now since I have grown mentally, I smoke cannabis, vent, scream into a pillow, cry, and exorcise those demons. But above all, I talk to other survivors.
What a beautiful sentiment to end this interview on. Thank you, Dez, for sharing your journey.
Interested in learning more about the Unchained Valkyries, and supporting their cause? Visit their official website at http://unchainedvalkyries.com/.