Hiding Hilda: The Harrowing Story Behind Her Stylish CCW Purses

Dawn Hillyer, founder of Hiding Hilda, was tormented for six years by her stalker. Now she’s helping women take back their lives.

by posted on October 22, 2021
Dawn Hillyer Lede
Photographer: Rebecca Koverman

Many women might believe, “If I had a stalker, I would buy a gun.” It sounds simple enough. If you’re in danger and fear that someone may target your life, you should be prepared to defend yourself. However, what makes Dawn Hillyer’s story all the more crushing is that even though she, a law-abiding citizen, attempted to do just that, her stalker made it impossible for her to buy and carry a firearm. Dawn was vulnerable and didn’t go anywhere alone for years. This is her story, and why you should never wait until you’re a victim to arm yourself. By then, it could be too late.

Dawn met Mike, supposedly a wealthy stockbroker, on a dating site, and they began to casually hang out. She explicitly says in her blog that there was “No talk of love, no talk of future, no overnights with the kids, no mixing our day to day lives. Just … company.” After their friendship had run its course, they went their separate ways with no hard feelings.

Or so she thought.

Eleven months later Mike reappeared, with apparently extremely hurt feelings from their parting of ways. He began to show up at her house, place of work and every other conceivable place she went. He bombarded her phone and email with calls, texts and messages. At first, he begged for her to “take him back,” although they were never dating. Then, his contact turned aggressive and vengeful. He was now a dangerous stalker.

After the stalking and constant harassment became too much for Dawn, she involved the police. While law enforcement did little to help Dawn, the stalker actually began using the law against her by filing false police reports and even getting a Protection Order against Dawn!

The Protection Order and false reports against Dawn were key reasons she was left defenseless and unarmed during this horrifying ordeal. NICS background checks are performed each time a person goes to purchase a firearm or apply for a concealed-carry permit, which verifies the buyer does not have a criminal record or isn't otherwise ineligible to purchase or own a firearm. The fake reports filed by her stalker marred Dawn’s record, making her an unlikely candidate for a CCW permit.

While Mike’s relentless messages to Dawn became more disturbing and threatening, he also began a smear campaign against her, spreading disgusting lies to her employer, boyfriend, ex-husband, family, friends, co-workers and clients. This gave Dawn further pause about the decision to arm herself. If Mike found out, he might try to frame her for something she didn’t do or possibly claim that she was threatening him.

This nightmare experience continued to affect Dawn and her relationships in many ways. After six months of the constant abuse, she rarely left her home, fearing for her life. Eventually she moved in with her boyfriend, who was steadfastly supportive of her throughout the ordeal—and who also happened to own home-defense firearms. However, Dawn began to feel further isolated from the world because she felt only remotely safe at home.

Dawn’s entire story of her six-year horrific ordeal can be found on her five-part blog documenting her experience, the trial and life after her stalker was out of prison. At the end of her story, Dawn says, “I lost a lot over those six years, but it’s led to amazing opportunities to help empower other women and Second Amendment advocacy. I’ve met the best people in the firearm industry, love what I do, get to impact change and feel like I’m making a difference.”

I had the chance to talk to Dawn about what her advocacy and Hiding Hilda handbags are up to today. Not only does Dawn distribute CCW purses made by a variety of premium manufacturers at events, shows and online, she also has her own line of Hiding Hilda handbags. Hers are the only purses made in the United States, and each has a name and a story.

Hiding Hilda’s purses are named after Second Amendment activists and considered Hilda’s Heroes. Some are competitive shooters, survivors or ambassadors. The Kayle Compact Clutch is the namesake of Olympic silver medalist and Hiding Hilda brand ambassador, Kayle Browning. The Jackie Crossbody is named after a fictional survivor and ambassador, the protagonist in one of Liz Lazarus’s novels, Plea for Justice. Liz and Dawn are longtime friends and Liz’s upcoming crime novel will be based on Dawn’s stalking experience.

“Women don't live in a waistband like guys do,” Dawn told me when I asked her what about CCW purses captured her interest. While plenty of people don’t believe in purse-carry, Dawn has something to say about purse-pooh-poohers; “I think it's how you present yourself as much as how you carry.” Dawn advocates for situational awareness and muscle retention instead of telling women how they should carry. “There are pros and cons to everything, but I have to do what works best for me.”

The good news for those that choose to responsibly purse carry is that “you no longer need to choose between pretty and functional.” Hiding Hilda’s handbags are stylish and safety-conscious because Dawn firmly believes that “if you like what you carry, you're more likely to carry.”

If you are #SorryNotSorry about purse carry, these are some of the expert’s top tips. Dawn tells her new customers that the firearm should first and foremost be stored in a properly fitting holster in its own separate compartment. “The zippered pocket should be tall enough to easily draw your firearm with no sticking. The firearm will take up room, so make sure it's big enough to accommodate the rest of your stuff without overstuffing (making for a harder draw).” As with any concealed carry setup, always practice with an unloaded gun and take a reputable class.

While her handbags are fashionable, functional and feature inspiring backstories, Dawn’s advocacy doesn’t stop there. She continues her Second Amendment activism as Vice President of Indiana Girls With Guns (IGWG). Dawn says that most of her “girls” started their gun journey in self-defense, but her IGWG events are so much more than that. “At these events, not only do we work on self-defense, but we might shoot some clays or shoot an AR just to get the feel for it, to introduce them to the shooting sports side too, which also gets them involved.” I asked Dawn what her favorite part of teaching was and she cited the contagious joy of when “they come out and they hit that target. You can't fake that smile.”

However, most people involved with Hiding Hilda are always genuinely smiling. Dawn said, “I hear from people across the country, but it's not only that they’re happy and they love what they got. It’s hearing that I've made a difference.” Dawn listens to victims’ stories, refers them to training and helps them take back their lives, “whether it's just listening to a case or helping them see that anybody can do it. I'm just some chick from Indiana. I'm not anybody, but it's the bringing people together and really using my voice.”

Dawn takes her referrals seriously and features ranges all over the country on her preferred partner training page. She said, “It's not about just basic training, it's about ongoing training. It’s about having them come back and practice and keep that retention.” After all, owning a gun is just the first step to be your own hero.

“I want them to be their own heroes and show them that they can. We can.” Dawn’s dedication to the Second Amendment is “way bigger than selling a purse. This is God-given.” She gives back to other stalking victims by speaking on panels and holding authorities accountable for women’s safety. Besides responsibly arming yourself before something awful happens, Dawn also recommends some resources she knows and trusts, if you yourself are dealing with a stalker: the National Stalking Resource Center, your local YWCA and the National Domestic Violence Network.

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