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How a Tattoo can Change You

Did you know victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking are sometimes forced by their abusers to receive brands or tattoos?

The ink or brand becomes a permanent symbol of ownership and control. In these situations victims often don’t know what to do and may feel shame in seeking help and recovery.

A young woman we know, we’ll call her Cassie, came to Unity House for help. Cassie showed her caseworker a tattoo, the name of her abuser. Getting the tattoo was not Cassie’s choice. Her abuser forced Cassie to get his name inked in a prominent place: on her arm where it would serve as an ever present reminder of the control and power he held over her. Cassie was scarred literally and figuratively from the abuse of an intimate partner.

Cassie told us how her abuser was screaming in her ear as she was getting inked in the tattoo parlor. Can you imagine? For Cassie, seeing the tattoo on her arm was a painful remnant of the abuse. But what if the tattoo could be removed or changed?

Cassie and her caseworker brainstormed for possible solutions. Tattoo removal is timely and costly, with limited success. Tattoo camouflage, however, is a solution that would work in Cassie’s case. Using fresh ink to transform an old tattoo into something new is not an easy skill, but Cassie and her caseworker found a local tattoo artist who could help. The tattoo artist donated her time and talent to help Cassie. Instead of a daily reminder of a painful time, the new design became a symbol of resilience and rebirth. When she looks at the tattoo now, Cassie sees survivor, no longer victim.

For Unity House’s Domestic Violence Services program, Cassie’s case presented an opportunity to work with local tattoo artists to help identify coercion. If tattoo artists are more aware about signs of abuse, they can look more closely for signs of coercion and ensure they have true consent before creating a permanent design on someone’s skin. This type of outreach and education is part of the program’s collaborative community approach.

Today, Cassie is doing well, living independently and safe. Camouflaging a tattoo was just one part of her moving on from an abusive relationship. A part that may seem small, but something she will have forever. Got a talent to share? For more information on how you can help support the needs of those seeking refuge from abuse, contact Unity House’s Domestic Violence Services program: (518) 274-2607. For help with domestic violence, call the 24 Hour Hotline for help with domestic violence: (518) 272-2370.