According to statistics, human trafficking (often referred to as sex trafficking) generates $9.5 BILLION a year in the United States alone. The average age of entry into a life of prostitution is 13 years, and over 300,000 children are at risk of being forced into the sex trade.
Trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation is considered the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. There are more slaves today than any other point in human history, with an estimated 27 million women, children and men being forced into a life of sex trafficking. Sadly, only 1-2% of victims ever get rescued.
Those are sobering facts that could leave us in despair. What are we to do? If we aren’t federal agents or government organizations, can we ever hope to impact the life of a victim of this crime? The short answer is yes.
One woman in Milwaukee is proving that anyone can step up to be a force for change if they choose. Her name is Kate Malone and she is a tattoo artist at Atomic Tattoo and Piercing. Her idea? To offer former sex trafficking victims free tattoos to cover up the branding done to them by pimps in their past life.
Her idea came from an encounter with some of her customers.
“I saw two girls who had the same name — that came in together and I asked about it and they said ‘oh, that’s our pimp,’”she told Fox6 news.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karine Moreno-Taxman has prosecuted many sex trafficking cases — and has seen many brands on survivors.
“Wanting to make changes is what people want to do and yet they can’t get rid of it. It’s literally like in the old west movies where you would mark your cows,” she said.
Kate says as she hears more about sex trafficking, she wants to help. She offers victims of sex trafficking free tattoo cover-ups, and she’s getting other tattoo artists to join the effort.
“A cover-up is a great option. You can take something painful and turn it into something beautiful. I love doing cover-ups for people. You know, maybe it’s someone who hasn’t worn a tank top in years because they have a tattoo they just don’t want anyone to see. Something as simple as that. They leave and say ‘I feel like a new person,’” she said.
A lot of the common designs she does for cover-ups are roses, eagles, reapers, and birds. Some former victims opt to get laser removal, but that can often be expensive and painful. A free tattoo cover-up is such an inspiring way for artist Kate Malone to give back to her community using her talents.
“Getting rid of a tattoo is like breaking that bond. That person is no longer chained to her pimp. He no longer has his mark on her. What an amazing thing to get rid of that mark,” added Attorney Karine Moreno-Taxman.
“You try to overcome what you’ve been through,” says one former victim Denise who now works at a center helping other former sex trafficking survivors. “But if you’re constantly looking at that name that name’s going to remind you.”
The branding of a victim by a pimp is a common occurrence throughout the sex trade in the US. A Guardian documentary called ‘Survivors Ink: Erasing the marks of Sex Trafficking‘ follows former sex slave Jennifer Kempton from Ohio who started the organization Survivors Ink.
They are a grassroots project that helps formerly trafficked women to cover up their branding with their own symbols of hope and recovery.
Sex trafficking in the US doesn’t get enough prominence in news headlines, but there have been some major breakthroughs by law enforcement. In June 2014 it was reported that the FBI rescued 168 child sex trafficking victims across the country in one of their biggest raids in years.
During the Super Bowl on February 1st, another momentous event was taking place elsewhere in the country. The day was dubbed the ‘National Day of Johns Arrest‘ by law enforcement in a major initiative which saw at least 570 pimps being arrested. Isn’t that worth more headlines than a failed pass by the Seattle Seahawks which dominated headlines the day after?
“Sex trafficking continues to destroy countless lives, and this broad national movement should send a strong message to prospective johns that their ‘hobby’ is much more than a ‘victimless’ crime,” Illinois’ Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart who headed up this sting said in a statement. “It‟s particularly meaningful that this sting culminated on the day of the Super Bowl, which unfortunately has emerged as a prominent haven for sex trafficking.”
“Its all about building awareness, about staying on the problem,” he said. “There’s no silver bullet for this.”
Awareness not just of the problem, but how each one of us can contribute to ending this horrific crime against humanity is also key. We’re so inspired to see Kate Malone offer her services to help former victims regain a life of freedom and hope many others will follow in her wake.