Human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, is one of the most wide-spread and egregious violations of human rights in our world today. Traffickers and pimps use tactics that are almost unthinkable to lure, control, and compel their victims into forced labor or commercial sex acts. These abusers use violence, threats, false promises, and the illusion of love to slowly break down their victim’s sense of humanity over time. They feed off our vulnerabilities, our need for care and love and affection – and use them against their victims. I can think of nothing perhaps more evil than preying off the emotional and psychological vulnerabilities of another human being to exploit and profit off of them. But sadly this happens every day, in just about every city, all over the world.
Many victims of sex trafficking are forcibly branded or tattooed by their pimps to dehumanize them and reinforce the trafficker’s message: that they are their property or their slave. Pimps have tattooed the word “daddy” or their own name on their victims, or even used symbols like a product barcode. Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about a young girl, Taz, in New York who, along with 3 other girls, were forcibly tattooed or branded by a violent pimp. Another sex trafficker in Los Angeles, California, who compelled 13 and 14 year old girls to engage in commercial sex, forcibly tattooed them with his street name.
Since December of 2007, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline has received nearly 150 calls across the nation related to tattoos and human trafficking, including 63 unique cases of potential trafficking situations. In nearly 18% of the cases referenced, callers identified having seen the trafficker’s name or identifying symbol tattooed on the victim. In another 10% of the cases, callers stated that the trafficker physically forced the victim to be tattooed. Calls referenced both sex and labor trafficking situations, where the majority of victims were overwhelmingly minor girls.
Even after escaping their trafficking situations, these victims are forced to view this constant and permanent physical reminder of the tragedies that they were forced to endure at the hands of evil men.
However, legislators in California are currently looking at helping these survivors by making their tattoos less permanent. . Assemblyman Anthony Portantino introduced AB 1956 earlier this year. The first of its kind, AB 1956 expands existing tattoo removal programs for ex-gang members to include survivors of human trafficking. If it becomes law, survivors of this form of modern-day slavery will no longer have to live with the constant reminder of their tragic past. This bill received unanimous bi-partisan support in the California Assembly, and is currently pending in the California Senate. AB 1956 is among a package of billsthat Polaris Project is actively working on behalf of in California.
Join Polaris Project and our partner organizations, in calling on the California Senate to once again lead the nation in innovative responses to human trafficking, by unanimously passing this important piece of legislation. Together, let us erase this evil practice.