Sex traffickers typically brand their victims with large, noticeable tattoos. Removing them is an important part of the healing process.
Trigger Warning: Detailed descriptions of sex trafficking and sexual/physical abuse
Victims of sex trafficking are often "branded" by their pimps through the use of tattoos. These tattoos tend to be large and highly visible, in an effort to mark one's "ownership" and "territory" in certain hotspots for trafficking. Those who have escaped the world of sex trafficking, therefore, find healing and relief in removing these "branding" tattoos. In a video for Refinery29, one survivor shared her journey of entering this world and how she is finally moving forward, courtesy of Beautologie. This is a cosmetic surgery and medical aesthetics clinic based in California. The clinic offers a pro-bono tattoo clinic, where they laser off tattoos previously used to mark victims of sex trafficking.
Traffickers often brand their victims to show ownership. Tattoos or branding indicating money or those that a child is unwilling to explain, might be indicators of child sex trafficking. Know the signs: https://t.co/EAWFdrMVNQ#EndTrafficking #HumanTraffickingPreventionMonth pic.twitter.com/RCuB1Xb4dd— NCMEC (@MissingKids) January 15, 2021
The pro-bono project is run in collaboration with The United Way Center to Combat Human Trafficking for their campaign Traffic Stop. The organization creates effective community-based solutions, galvanizes collaboration across sectors, and builds public and political will to support, fund, and scale strategies across the world that find, stop, and prevent human trafficking. One way they do this is by prioritizing the healing of the victims they support, which includes removing markers associated with their previous lives. Tattoos can be a painful reminder of a victim's lived experiences and traumas. Therefore, lasering the tattoo off, though painful, could give them a new lease on life.
De-branding my body— Freedom United (@freedomunitedHQ) October 31, 2019
Sex trafficking survivors transforming their tattoos.https://t.co/W1vK0NOesC
"A lot of people have complimented me on this tattoo. They tell me, 'Oh, that's so pretty, those roses are so pretty. Why are you getting it removed?'" The survivor shares in the video. "And sometimes I do feel in my heart to just tell them, you know, 'Okay well do you know what human trafficking is?'" She was forced to get the tattoo by her pimp, she explains, as branding by her trafficker. She states, "This tattoo is like right there, as an ugly reminder of everything that I fought to get away from."
Many of our clients are sex trafficking survivors hiding branded tattoos – random designs, words or something offensive & shameful. We work with tattoo artists to cover them. To become a partner, donor or client, click our bio link.#cupcakegirlsorg #truestory #tattoocoverup pic.twitter.com/MY8EMWXrwk— The Cupcake Girls (@CupcakeGirlsOrg) December 5, 2019
While this survivor managed to escape, thousands of others still walk the streets in trafficking hotspots. "There's countless more that are being sold on the internet, sitting in one of these hotel rooms," she states, driving by a motel. "When I come out here and I see these girls and I see the pain on their faces, I know that they don't want to be out here. My heart breaks for those girls because it's like, being on the other side sometimes, I feel a little bit guilty. Because I really got away clean from 'the game.'"
Episode 105 - A Redemption in Ink with Chris Baker of Ink180— Cam Harless💀 (@CamHarless) August 12, 2021
This week, @soupcanarchist and I are joined by Chris Baker of @Ink180. A tattooist who transforms tattoos used as brands in sex trafficking and turns them into something beautiful. Join us as we discuss his ministry. pic.twitter.com/Kbk5c6YnpL
The survivor was poached by a man she was in a relationship with. He would take her out on dates to woo her. She says, "I genuinely was in love with this person, or at least I thought I was. Then the next thing I knew, he had taken me with another girl. They put me in this hotel room and they're like, 'Okay this guy's gonna come in. Just take the money and go from there.'" After a period of three years, when she did not meet the income targets her pimp expected her to, he became violent and physically abusive. "I was terrified that one day he was going to kill me," she explains. "I packed up what I owned and by the grace of God, there was a police officer."
A local clinic is offering a free, clean slate to those who are looking for a fresh start in life by removing tattoos from people who’ve been released from prison, victims of sex trafficking and former gang members. @DeniseNakanoTV has the story: https://t.co/LTvV8tp1T4 pic.twitter.com/Xr7IRla42d— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) August 14, 2019
She has been rescued for four years now and is currently working on her rehabilitation. Among other things, the survivor works as an assistant catering manager and spends her free time with her daughter or doing advocacy work to raise awareness about sex trafficking. Prior to this, she received services as a survivor. Now, she is fulfilling one of her final steps towards rehabilitation. Laser tattoo removal requires multiple sessions, making it a slow and painful process, particularly for larger tattoos. "Being able to get rid of this tattoo, it'll be like looking at myself and not feeling like I'm still owned by somebody, like I'm not somebody's property anymore," she affirms. "I'm finally just my own person. It's gonna be worth it in the end."