Nov201418
Survivors Ink: Transforming tattoos of trafficking victims
07:23 AM
In our Needles & Sins Facebook Group this weekend, Inge & Beth posted links to The Guardian's article and video featuring the work of Survivors Ink, a nonprofit project that aids formerly trafficked women by transforming their tattoo and branding marks of abuse into artwork, or helping them remove these tattoos completely.

Jennifer Kempton, who founded Survivors Ink, explains her motivation behind the project:

Tattoos are a creative way to display beautiful and meaningful artwork on a human canvas. However, there are times when this unique form of art is being used to exploit human trafficking victims. It is becoming popular for traffickers to use tattoos as a way to forcibly brand their victims... marked as property, as if they were human cattle. These human trafficking victims are already being treated as though they are pieces of meat and now they are being enslaved by permanent marks of demoralizing tattoos. The thought of having to live the life of a victim, forced or coerced into being a sex slave, is horrible enough. But try to imagine being able to finally escape this life of darkness, only to be marked with a constant reminder of the violence you have suffered.
[...]
I want to help break the psychological hold of their perpetrators. I want to help them to be free of violent brandings that mark them as property. I want to enable them to erase the dark memories of enslavement and constant reminders of these marks. I want to use this unique form of art to help break the physical chains of bondage. I want to help remove or cover their brandings with something that is beautiful, meaningful and symbolic... which to me, is what art is supposed to be. But I know that art can become much more than that.
As noted in The Guardian article, the horrors of human trafficking in the US are astounding:  "Reliable statistics are rare, but those in the field estimate hundreds of thousands of women and girls - the majority of whom are US citizens - are sold for sexual exploitation in America's $9.5bn human-trafficking industry. According to the US Department of Justice, 300,000 of those at risk are children."

The "property of" tattoos on these victims is systemic in the US (but can also be found on victims worldwide). As Jennifer told The Guardian, "pretty much every woman who survives the streets comes out with some kind of mark on her body." She adds that there was even a crack house where a "tattoo artist" would often be in residence, trading tattoos on the women for drugs.

Through Survivors Ink, real tattoo artists donate their time to cover these marks of abuse, and the only cost is that to cover supplies. More on how the project brings tattooers and survivors together can be found on the Survivors Ink site.

The tattoo stories of the women featured in the article and video are heart wrenching, but I highly recommend you read and/or see the video. It is a reminder just how powerful tattoos can be, from oppression to transformation.


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Craig Dershowitz
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