Tattoo artists can help fight sex trafficking

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Once restricted to soldiers and sailors, tattoos have gone mainstream.

Now the rule more than the exception, they range from crude, jailhouse creations to works of art worthy of a gallery.

Most of them commemorate a child, a lover, a special hobby, a landmark occasion or whimsy.

Others have a more ominous meaning — like the numbers on an elderly woman’s arm, but we were too shy or polite to ask whether they were applied in a concentration camp.

Tattoo artists who are meeting for a national convention in Council Bluffs this weekend have a chance to find out more about a role they are uniquely qualified to play — fighting the sex trafficking industry.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health is teaming up with Black Squirrel Tattoo and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department to present “Human Trafficking and the Tattoo Industry,” featuring world-renowned tattoo artist Gunnar.’

It will be 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Old Mattress Factory, 501 N. 13 in Omaha, and includes lunch. register at http://www.heritagetattooconference.com/

Instead of a puppy or rose, some girls or women are forced to wear tattoos like a bar code, dollar sign or their sex trafficker’s name. The permanent mark helps maintain control and dominance over the women and girls.

“Many tattoo artists don’t realize there’s a connection (between tattoos and human sex trafficking) but once I explain it, they want more education on the topic,” said Mel Judkins, owner of Black Squirrel Tattoo.

Tattoo artists have a unique relationship with their clients, he said, “we spend a lot of time, one-on-one with them, so we’d be most effective if trained.

“Tattoo artists have a critical opportunity for detection, identification and reporting of any abuse, including sex trafficking,” said Shireen Rajaram, Ph.D., associate profession, health promotion, UNMC College of Public Health.

“Through secondary prevention and the timely identification of survivors, they can help stem the violence and injury. They can connect survivors to support services in the community, so they can start to heal from the emotional and physical trauma and rebuild lives.

You may not be a tattoo artist, but you can recognize one that may indicate the person’s a victim of human trafficking.

There are many others, of course:

-- Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?

-- Has a child stopped attending school?

-- Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?

-- Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?

-- Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?

-- Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?

-- Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?

-- Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?

-- Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?

-- Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?

-- Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?

-- Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

If you suspect someone is a victim, contact the nearest law enforcement agency or call 1-866-347-2423

To get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888

or text HELP or INFO to

BeFree (233733)

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