ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - An Albuquerque woman makes a living doing laser tattoo removal, but it is what she's doing for free that is garnering national attention.
Dawn Maestas of Lazarus Laser Center in the South Valley removes tattoos pro bono for women whose tattoos are a lasting reminder of a darker time. Some of the women have been forcibly tattooed in a gang initiation or by an abusive partner.
She started it after realizing the freedom she felt after removing her ex-husband's name from her leg and arm. To her, the tattoos represented literal and emotional scars of an abusive, violent relationship.
The laser-removal process can be painful, requiring multiple sessions. Maestas says she quickly becomes a confidant for the women.
"Every time I have someone else in, the story is so much more horrific in the things that this person endured," said Maestas. "I don't just remove their tattoos - they bring their secrets."
Latishia Sanchez, 20, is having the tattoo of her ex-boyfriend's last name removed from her neck. It was the result of an abusive relationship from when she was just 14-years-old.
"We ran away. We ended up homeless here in Albuquerque. Things just fell down from there," Sanchez said.
Sanchez says she and her boyfriend ended up at a drug house, where she was knocked out and raped by several men.
She says she woke up to discover a crude tattoo of her boyfriend's name on her neck.
"I thought it was fake. I thought, maybe someone just drew it on. And I touched it and it hurts," Sanchez said.
Maestas says it appears the men used melted plastic, pencil shavings and a safety pin on Sanchez. She's seen it before.
For Sanchez, the pain of the procedure doesn't compare to the hope she has from the process.
"It didn't even come to my attention until they brought it up: ‘You know nobody's going to ask you, 'Who is Aaron?' again,'" Sanchez said.
Maestas story was recently recorded and archived in the Library of Congress as part of Story Corps.
She doesn't want tattoo removal to be the end of the story. Maestas has plans to continue her advocating for victims and educating others on what domestic violence is.
"We're going to make it a behavior that's unacceptable in our society," Maestas said. "I'm determined."
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