It is not uncommon for traffickers to “brand” their victims with an identifying tattoo to show ownership. These tattoos often show the trafficker’s name/nickname, barcodes, dollar signs, among various other words and symbols. Some tattoos even read “Property of…” with the trafficker’s name. This practice of branding, also common during the Transatlantic Slave Trade era to show ownership of slaves, leaves survivors with a physical reminder of the abuse they have endured. Many young survivors are bullied by their peers when they have a visible tattoo that others don’t understand.
Resources to help survivors transform or remove these tattoos are popping up around the country, supporting hundreds of survivors on their path to healing.
Earlier this year, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced new grants that will be available to help cover the cost of transforming or removing tattoos that were used to symbolize trafficking. Local courts will be able to help survivors determine costs and eligibility. “These grants will enable women to leave behind the brand that identified them as someone else’s property,” said Yost.
These grants will be named in honor of the late trafficking survivor Jennifer Kempton, who founded Survivor’s Ink in Columbus, Ohio. This tattoo shop offers full scholarships to survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation to help them cover their physical scars, markings, and branding.
There are many tattoo shops like Survivor’s Ink that aim to help survivors of human trafficking and abuse in this way. In Florida, a doctor offered to remove a young survivor’s eyelid tattoos that read “Suave House,” her trafficker’s “pimp name.” This story inspired business owner Amor Sierra to purchase a tattoo shop to help survivors cover up ink that symbolized their abuse.
We are inspired by these organizations that support survivors on their path to healing. Refacing these tattoos is also symbolic of their healing process – many will choose to cover their old tattoos with blooming flowers or other symbols of growth and natural beauty.
It is important to note that tattoos/branding can be a physical sign of trafficking. If you suspect that someone is in danger or in a trafficking situation, you can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline 888-373-7888.
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