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Exposing the Disturbing Practice of Sex Traffickers Using Tattoos To Mark Their Victims

By October 11, 2017December 10th, 2018No Comments

What do you think of when you think about tattoos? Self-expression, maybe? How about creativity or beauty or freedom or art?

All of these are ideas that modern society commonly associates with getting inked. Plenty of our Fighters have awesome artwork (check out Ryan, one half of one our favorite Fighter Couples), and we’re so psyched to see the creativity and dedication of FTND’s global crew! Not to mention dedicated Fighters for life who get awesome ink inspired by this movement for love. Check out Cameron’s awesome Fighter tattoo!

Whatever reasons lie behind someone’s tattoos, the decision to get one is deeply personal. A personal marking, forever on your skin. In a study done by the University of Arkansas, it was found that a tattoo can be “a way to find meaning, permanence, and stability–and thus a coherent identity–in an increasingly complex world.” In a very real way, a tattoo can reflect who someone is, what they believe in, and who they want to be.

But what if you didn’t get to choose what permanently went on your body, though? Tattoos should be a celebration of love, individuality, and self-expression, but they can have a disturbingly sinister side, too.

What If You Lost Your Identity?

In the world of sex trafficking, a tattoo can serve as a mark of ownership, showing that the person being trafficked “belongs” to a pimp, gang, or trafficker. Often, these tattoos have similar themes –a crown, a name, a dollar sign, even a barcodeand while they’re meant to show ownership, these marks create very real scars that last even after people have escaped the clutches of sexual slavery.

Related: 11 Arrested In Sex Trafficking Sting Using Fake Backpage Ads As Bait

Imagine looking down at your arm and seeing the name of the person who held you hostage, sold you for sex, and physically assaulted you, often for years at a time. Jennifer, a survivor of sex trafficking who started a grassroots tattoo cover-up project called Survivors Ink, remembers what it felt like to live with the tattoos forced on her by people who’d raped, beaten, and abused her:

“Every time I took a shower or tried to look at my body I was reminded of the violence and exploitation I’d suffered. I was so grateful to be alive, but having to look at those scars, seeing those names on your body every day, just puts you in a state of depression. You begin to wonder whether you’ll ever be anything but the person those tattoos say you are.”

One survivor of eight years of sex trafficking feels the same way.

“I don’t see my body as a tool anymore,” this survivor said in a report by The Atlantic. “I’m a mom now. I’ve escaped. So, that makes me a survivor. Now, people see me as a person and I’m appreciative of that.”

From Sex Trafficking To Porn

It’s been proven beyond doubt that porn is inseparably connected to sex trafficking. Porn might seem like it’s always consensual, but that’s far from the case; often, what looks like it’s happening between consenting adults is actually the result of someone being kidnapped, abused, drugged, threatened, and coerced into doing porn. This is, by definition, sex trafficking/slavery.

Related: By The Numbers: How Porn And Sex Trafficking Are Inseparably Connected

Even if it seems like unwilling participation in porn is a small problem, the unfortunate truth is that it’s not. More people are coerced into porn than we can be sure of, even when we know of many situations in which it’s the norm, not the exception.

Every time someone is forced into sexual slavery, she or he is subjected to violence and abuse, which can lead to a very real loss of identity that’s incredibly difficult to recover from. For every heartwarming story about someone saved from sex traffickers, there’s another about someone being coerced into sexual slavery.

That’s not something we’ll accept.

Self-Identity Matters

So how does this all relate to porn? Well, when the porn industry relies on tricking, coercing, and enslaving men and women, boys and girls, watching porn reinforces the idea that doing so is okay. A high demand for porn means that there will always be more people that are forced to forget their own identities and have their dignity and individuality forcefully taken from them.

The truth is, watching porn fuels the demand for sexual exploitation. The more society normalizes porn, it reinforces the idea that victims of sex trafficking are collateral damage in the search for short-term gratification, and that their ability to define themselves and live the lives they want is secondary to what they can do on camera. Blatant acceptance of porn is like showing the people running sex trafficking rings that what they’re doing is acceptable.

Related: The Problem With Saying “If You Don’t Like Porn, Don’t Watch It”

It isn’t.

If these survivor tell us anything, it’s that being a victim of sex trafficking steals your very identity from you, and it takes a tremendous fight to ever get it back. Stopping porn in its tracks can save countless people from the exploitation and abuse that are the foundations of the porn industry.

Everyone should be free to decide who they are, from the tattoos they get to the people they love to the work they do. If sex trafficking and porn make that impossible for some, well, we hope you’ll join us to put an end to them once and or all. Let’s fight to stop the demand, and make the world a freer, more loving place in the process.

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Porn and sex trafficking steal people’s right to define who they are. SHARE this article to spread the message that we all should be in control of our own lives.

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