Here’s a nice story occurring in the midst of the general shit show that can be our world – some kind people using their unique skills to help sex trafficking survivors move forward in their lives.
Evil in the World: Tattoos and Branding without Consent
As you may or may not know, tattoos are often used to mark people as the “property” of a sex trafficker. CNN wrote about this in 2017, likening the practice to branding individuals held captive as slaves.
An old-fashioned looking moneybag tattooed on the arm. “F— You, Pay Me” tattooed on a girl’s neck. Large initials tattooed on a girl’s face. The initials “ATM” tattooed near a girl’s crotch. A trafficker’s name tattooed across a girl’s thighs. A bar code tattooed across a girl’s wrist, like an item in a grocery store. The practice is not new. It used to be done by slave owners using brands on slaves to show ownership. Now it’s back in a different form, but for the same horrible purpose.
The coverage on sex trafficking is grim – and can certainly only allude to how awful, confounding, coercive, manipulative and evil the entire practice is. It’s also something that, for so many reasons ranging from physical abuse to brainwashing and emotional manipulation, people struggle to leave. Some do though, and it’s these folks the aforementioned kind people are trying to help.
Moving Forward: Help from 3 Ravens
The Red & Black, an independent student news organization serving the University of Georgia community, recently wrote a story about a tattoo parlor in Athens, GA — 3 Ravens Tattoo & Piercing — that provides free cover-ups to survivors of sex trafficking who have been marked against their will. Owners Jim and Devon Mellor will cover tattoos and/or brandings, free of charge for survivors.
“These marks carry through long after someone is lucky enough to be liberated from that life,” Devon Mellor told the Red & Black. “It’s the last thing that someone who’s struggling to go from being trafficked to get on their feet is going to have money for or put money toward.”
According to Jim Mellor, the most common tattoos are crowns, roses, names and even barcodes, all of which tend to be on victims’ wrists or necks. This corresponds with what CNN reported as well.
For Devon Mellor, providing free cover-up tattoos is her way of supporting and helping survivors move forward with their lives. “It’s like therapy,” she told the Red & Black. “It’s a physical expression of a lot of the emotional stuff that’s going on inside their head that can’t get out. It’s a very physical, visual transformation.”
Jim Mellor also stated that cover-up services have had a profound impact on some survivors. “[The mark] takes away someone’s self-value… and when you take the tag away, everything changes,” he told the Red & Black.
Covering up the marks is typically finished in one setting, which allows survivors to only have to go through the experience once, Devon Mellor explained. This is a key piece of information as being tattooed – even in a consensual, cover-up manner – may itself be triggering or otherwise upsetting. One sitting may thus make the process more appealing or accessible to survivors.
What does this mean for you?
In terms of what this story may mean for you, perhaps not much. Or, perhaps it’s very significant.
Sex trafficking is conflated with sex work endlessly endlessly ENDLESSLY. However, though people who are survivors of this type of abuse may engage in sex-related behaviors, sex trafficking and sex work are not related, nor are they similar. (The conflation of sex work and sex trafficking may impact your work life though — for instance, SESTA/FOSTA and other laws and policies limiting sex-related speech online.)
It is nice to hear of people in the world attempting to use their skills for good. It is also good for each of us to be aware of this resource — we cross paths with many people in life, and perhaps we may know someone who could benefit from this service, via 3 Ravens or another space. (Certainly 3 Ravens can’t be the only place that provides this service.)
And you know what else? Perhaps, in some small way, this story will also help outsiders see the differences between horrible abuse (sex trafficking) and actual jobs/careers (sex work). This, in turn, may help these same people develop empathy for survivors and awareness about yet another career choice many humans opt to make.
Erika Chan is a sex positive people watcher (and writer). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via karen andrews.