When most tattoo enthusiasts think about their tattoos they have good memories or cathartic ones from using the experience to get out some of their issues. Tattoos now have a pretty good connotation for most people but there have been times where this wasn’t so. During the holocaust Jews were tattooed with numbers in an attempt to dehumanize them by the Nazis. Gangs today use similar methods to tattoo their members or “property”. For those victims their tattoos aren’t a pleasant memory and they’re stuck with them on the skin forever. This charity helps the survivors reclaim their lives and their bodies by removing the scars of their past.
Thanks to a project called Survivors Ink that doesn’t have to be so.
The woman who started the project is a survivor herself. Having been through the hell of trafficking and being a victim herself she knows what these people are going through to get free. Jennifer Kempton set out to break the psychological chain that trafficking can have on victims. As a victim she experienced being branded and sold but once she got free she was constantly reminded of her ordeal because of the marks on her skin. When she got them covered she felt liberated and free at last. The charity also provides advocacy, follow up care, and education on preventing human trafficking as part of it’s mission. Sadly, she took her own life in May 2017.
Applicants to the charity have to be actively working to turn their lives away from the lifestyle to go through the “de-branding” process.
Artist Charles “Chuck” Waldo helped her and the victims move on from their experience. The work is free, and the only charge is the cost of materials which the charity pays for. Waldo himself once went down a dark path and he empathizes with the people who have ghosts in their closets, understanding the need for redemption and moving on. Chuck has been tattooing since 1969 and is based in Columbus Ohio, where Jennifer finally found home. While his work might not be award winning, it’s the heart of his message with what he’s doing for the victims that makes it so important.
The charity now offers partnerships with registered providers who are vetted to make sure the experience is private, experienced, anonymous, and clean so that the victim will feel safe during their experience.
Most of the victim’s designs are simple cover ups. Their original tattoos letters, names, places, and crudely done designs. The charity will not cover track marks, boyfriend’s names, or unrelated tattoos. The designs that survivors choose are usually something that relates to their freedom – for one it’s a flower with her daughter’s name, something she says is her new reason for living; for another it’s the words “free yourself” with a feather showing her power over the experience and not letting it control her future.
The charity accepts donations and has a website with more info.