We here at Albuquerque's Family Advocacy Center want you to know that help is available if you step inside.
Victim advocates, service providers, and law enforcement officers all tied purple ribbons around the Family Advocacy Center near Seventh Street and Silver this morning, and we are proud to have participated in this event to honor the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The Family Advocacy Center provides victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault with a safe environment to get resources, address their trauma, and get assistance with establishing safety for themselves.
We are honored to be service providers for the victims of Domestic Violence in our city, and want to showcase our building as a safe space for them. No abusers are allowed inside. Just look for the purple ribbons out in the street!
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/.
A HUGE and HEARTFELT congratulations to our very own Clinical Coordinator, Gail Starr!! She was recognized by Albuquerque the Magazine as being on of the best providers in the city, and was celebrated as 2021's "Top-Notch Nurse"! We are honored and happy to have Gail as one of our SANEs, and are incredibly grateful to have had her as our Clinical Coordinator since 2013.
We meant every word of her nomination, and couldn't think of a more deserving person at our clinic. She has tirelessly dedicated over 15yrs of her life to ABQ SANE, and has served countless victims of violence in our city.
Another round of applause for Gail! WE LOVE YOU!
Albuquerque Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#ABQSAAM2021) has officially begun! Today, on April 5th 2021, Albuquerque City Council will be signing an official Proclamation for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Campus will also begin displaying a SAAM banner over their footbridge the UNM Hospital, located near North Campus. The banner will be visible over Lomas Street, and will be on display thru the end of the month.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month is a National campaign designed to raise public awareness about sexual assault, as well as educate communities about its impact and prevention. It was created in 2001 by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and is currently in its 20th year. As healthcare providers for the survivors of Albuquerque, we couldn't be happier to have a city so united in its efforts against sexual violence. We are excited to participate in #ABQSAAM2021, and are honored to be backed by a community that supports our patients unconditionally. Thank you UNMHSC and ABQ City Council!
On March 31st, and every other day of the calendar year, Albuquerque SANE stands with the transgender people of New Mexico. We respect you, care about you, and we’re here for you — no matter the circumstances.
Our transgender patients are entitled to receiving quality healthcare after sexual assault, and we firmly believe that they deserve to be treated with dignity, understanding, and culturally-sensitive services. We understand that while there is no monolith on how to be trans or nonbinary, every single transgender person is deserving of commemoration for their courage today and every day. We celebrate the increasing visibility and diversity of all LGBTQIA people, and we love our trans patients. It is an honor to serve you!
Halloween is officially tomorrow! How do you plan on celebrating it? Hopefully your answer doesn't include an insensitive costume or predatory behavior.
From rape culture to cultural appropriation and even Blackface, dressing up in costume often gives people a false sense of permission to do outrageous things. The anonymity of wearing a costume on October 31st gives you the ability to completely change your day-to-day identity, and makes it easy to feel like you have an alter ego... but that doesn't make it okay. In fact, blatantly racist costumes that dehumanize people are never okay. Violating someone's consent just because they're wearing a "revealing" costume is never okay.
People in face paint darker than their natural skin tone, women wearing war bonnets and moccasins, men saying that "she asked for it" just because her skirt is short: none of it is okay. This Halloween, recognize that celebrating a holiday doesn't give you permission to be problematic.
October is quickly approaching! For many of our Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners and staff, Halloween is their favorite holiday. Ironically enough, it's also the holiday that marks the end of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
In 2019 alone, we served 171 victims of domestic violence in Albuquerque. Many of the patients who came to see us were also parents whose children had witnessed the violence. After the restraining order was granted, the forensic evidence collected, and the exam completed, many of those patients still had numerous questions lingering in their mind: how do I make sure my child is going to be okay? How do I make them feel safe again? What am I going to do about Halloween?
For many victims, these questions not only revolve around re-establishing their child's safety, but also recreating a sense of normalcy for them. Whether this was dropping them off at school or even relocating to a safer place, topics like the holidays often cause a headache for victims, particularly this holiday. With all of Halloween's crowded streets, costumes, and strangers in masks, trick-or-treating with children can seem like a daunting task. Not only does the holiday present what can seem like a "logistical nightmare" for people trying to stay hidden from their abuser, but it also forces many to feel like they are depriving their child of a fun holiday activity should they chose not to leave the house. On one hand, victims want to protect their children against possible retaliation from their abuser; but on the other, they don't want to sacrifice what they feel is an integral part of their childhood.
Well, ABQ SANE is here to say that both are possible! And that trick-or-treating with your child after surviving domestic violence shouldn't be a predicament. Halloween safety for our patients is an utmost priority, and we have put together a handy guide for anyone considering trick-or-treating with their children. Empowering our patients after their assault is not only one of our core missions, but it is also a duty that we don't take lightly. It was an honor to put together this guide, and from us to you, we wish you a safe Halloween.
Dez is no stranger to gender-based violence. In fact, she hates it so much that she wants to see it destroyed. Numerous amounts of women who survive sexual violence suffer from low self-worth, negative self-image, and lack of confidence as a result of the abuse they endured, and as the founder of Tattooed Women Are Beautiful, Dez is doing her part to empower those women. Tattooed Women Are Beautiful is an alternative beauty group comprised of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Providing resources to people who need it, they also support victims through their fundraising efforts; most noticeably in the form of their annual calendar sales. In 2016, New Mexico ranked 6th in the United States for cases of domestic violence/ male-to-female homicides, and one year later, in 2018, New Mexico ranked 7th in the nation for its rate of forcible rapes. Due to the pervasive nature of gender-based violence in the state, Tattooed Women Are Beautiful's calendar is meant to help women reclaim both their sexuality and their comfort in their bodies. Taking inspiration from pin-up, rockabilly, and goth culture, survivors are given their own photo shoots and a month on the calendar to call their own. They get to flaunt their tattoos and present themselves unapologetically. The sales from the calendar are then donated to local nonprofit organizations that directly service victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, such as the Domestic Violence Resource Center, and this year Albuquerque SANE was lucky enough to be chosen as the beneficiary. We sat down with Dez to hear about her organization and her own story of surviving gender-based violence. Read below:
Thanks for letting me interview you, Dez. I'm curious. How did you get involved in this position? The calendar?
We had done the calendar before, and did it in honor of my friend Kirsten who was murdered by her ex boyfriend. We originally donated money to the DVRC [Domestic Violence Resource Center] because they had helped with her funeral, so for the second calendar I was wondering who would benefit this time around. My friend Sadie mentioned Albuquerque sane, and I had never heard of the organization. After doing some research, I made up my mind right then and there.
It sounds like you feel very passionately about this field.
I had a rough marriage that changed me in many ways and shattered my self-esteem. So it’s not like it’s a foreign thing.
Wow. Thank you for sharing that.
Well I’m in a place I can share that now.
Tell us a little bit about the Divine Eye.
The Divine Eye is a tattoo shop and we’re open for business, taking appointments, and we’re open from Tuesday through Saturday from 12pm to 8pm, so it’s best just to call. The Divine Eye is just one of our sponsors, along with Evolution [Body Piercing] and Ascension [Body Modification]. I’m the owner of Tattooed Women Are Beautiful, and I wanted to do something to honor my friend Kirsten, so I just decided, what sells?
Naked ladies on calendars, haha. And so we built the first calendar with solely survivors, who have been through traumatic experiences or another, and are okay with doing this sort of thing, and then it just grew from there. This’ll be, gosh, almost six years going?
Are you a tattoo artist also?
I’m just an artist. I work in mixed media, digital art, and all kinds of stuff. Tattooed Women Are Beautiful has its own website, tattooedwomenarebeautiful.com, and that has a resource page that has a shit ton of resources [for victims]. I’d like to add more.
Okay, last question so I stop grilling you on the spot haha.
You mentioned earlier that you’re also a survivor yourself [of domestic violence and sexual assault]. Before we let you go, do you have any words of advice or any other kind of information for other survivors? Maybe even regarding your own journey up to this point?
Don’t stay quiet. Tell your friends and family about it. I know it’s a hard situation to get out of, and I completely understand that it’s even harder when kids are involved too. But I think the number one thing is just to not stay quiet about what’s happening to you. Other people need to know. Personally, I didn’t tell anyone about my own experiences for a long time, but if I had, maybe something would’ve been different.
But you’re here now, sharing your story with us, and that’s what’s most important.
Thank you so much for being here, Dez. Thanks for being amazing.
When I was 15, I got into punk music. When I was the same age, I also had my first run-in with being sexually harassed in public. A strange man on the bus decided that it was a good idea to try to put his hand on my thigh, and I had wanted to kick his goddamn teeth in. I remember that I was listening to the Dead Kennedys when that incident happened, and the more uncomfortable I became sitting next to that man, the more I turned up the volume. The aggression of the music felt like wrapping myself in armor – and it comforted me when nothing else in that moment could.
But don’t get me wrong. I’m the farthest thing from a hardened punk. I’m shy, introverted, and cry easily at otter videos. I like having my hair stroked and apologize way too much. So why do I like punk music? Well, I guess what first attracted me to was the power I felt while listening to it; I felt untouchable each time I had my earphones blasting The Sex Pistols, and the music made me temporarily forget how I looked.
Self-confidence, and feeling powerful in my body, was always something that I’ve struggled with. I was molested as a child, and grew up with body dysmorphic disorder and other nasty things as a result, like Depression and PTSD. I never truly felt comfortable with my body, and feeling safe in it was an unheard of thing; so I shrank myself down as much as I could while growing up. I surrounded myself with toxic friendships because being submissive felt comfortable, and if you look at any of my family photos, you’d see a deeply sad child looking back at you. It was only years later, after I finally told someone what happened to me, that I realized how much body dysmorphia that I had been living with while undiagnosed.
For many years, I refused to have my photo taken, dressed in dark clothing three sizes too big, avoided the beach so no one would see me in a swimsuit, and constantly begged for reassurance... even if I didn’t believe the compliments that people told me. I walked with bad posture to make myself seem smaller, and as a teenager I once burst into tears after seeing myself in the mirror because I hated the girl in the reflection. I repulsed myself. There’s simply no better way to describe it. My self-esteem was cripplingly low, and I desperately wanted to be someone else: if I had the option of disappearing into the wall, I would’ve gladly taken it. For many years it was like there was a massive, neon sign above my head that constantly dictated how I should feel about myself...
and the sign read: “MY COUSIN RUINED MY BODY SO DON’T LOOK AT ME”.
I wholeheartedly believed that lie for most of my life, and it was only years later when my therapist told me that my body dysmorphia was linked to my assault that I gained clarity. Hearing those words was like pulling the sword from the stone, and from then on it all made sense. I had been hurt as a child by someone I trusted, and the only way I knew how to protect myself at the time was to hurt myself even more. Hating my body was the ultimate “protection”. No one could violate me if I violated myself worse. If I despised the way I looked, and constantly hated myself, then I was safe... that's what my brain had learned after being assaulted. I tricked myself into thinking that I would be safe from another assault if I tore my own body apart, and had been unknowingly internalizing my trauma for years.
I started getting into punk music when my self-confidence was at its lowest. It was uplifting to me when I heard the thrash of guitars and people screaming into microphones. Now they are powerful, I would think to myself. They stand up for what they believe in and take no shit. I looked up to all of the women with greasy hair and smeared eyeliner who sang about castrating their abusers. They didn’t care if people saw their cuts or their cellulite or their ripped fishnets, and would've stomped any man who dared to catcall them.
I was attracted to how unapologetic they were for being themselves: they didn’t apologize for existing like I constantly did. A lot of them had experienced sexual harassment, or assault, and weren't afraid to write songs about it. They were comfortable in their bodies. The punk community was inclusive, and welcomed everyone to release their frustrations. I became infatuated with the sense of fashion, the anti-racism, the ideologies, and the remorseless way that true punks kicked Nazi "punks" and skinheads to the curb. At age 15, I started listening to punk music while struggling to keep my head above water. When I was 20, I finally told someone about what happened to me as a child after hearing the song "Don't Tell Me What To Do" by Cerebral Ballzy. (yes, that's their real name.)
Today, at age 24, I take medication every day, go to therapy, and am no longer afraid to share my story - and with 100% certainty I can say that punk music was critical for any of those things to happen.
As I write this, I’m still learning how to be myself and not apologize for it. Kathleen Hanna is singing over my computer speakers and the sun is shining outside. It's springtime. The weather is gorgeous. I’m learning how to heal, and the work is hard, but that's okay. On days when loving myself seems impossible, I listen to punk music as loudly as I can. And on days when it feels easy, I make playlists of songs that helped me so others can listen to them, too.