‘Branded’ victims of sex trafficking get fresh start in Clearwater

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Former sex slave Jennifer Kempton has permanent reminders of her former life. She’s taking steps to remove tattoos traffickers forced her to get.

“It’s very much like reclaiming your body back, standing up against the abuser and saying, ‘You know, this is my property, not yours,’” Kempton said.

Victims seek tattoo alterations

Getting rid of the physical reminder is often the first step toward putting bad memories away for good for victims.

Tattoo artist Drew Resch, of Iron Rose Tattoo in Clearwater, said he sees people in Kempton’s situation all the time. “It’s barcodes they put on. Sometimes it’s the name or the initials of the pimp or the handler. Sometimes it’s a symbol to let other people in the industry know that that’s their property,” Resch said.

He takes great joy in altering tattoos, turning them into cherished artwork. “When we’re able to take that and not only make it so they don’t have to look at it ever again, but truly cover it, and make it a good memory for them, it’s a blessing,” Resch said.

Victims seek tattoo alterations

On the NBC show “Blindspot,” the lead character’s tattoos tell her story and help FBI agents identify her. In real life, it works much differently.

“When you know that someone is a victim of human trafficking, you don’t ask them about those tattoos because it can often trigger or cause them to relive a really bad episode,” Niki Cross said. Cross is an abduction and kidnapping survivor who helps young people escape their past lives.

Getting an unwanted tattoo removed can start the healing process. “They get to choose what it’s gonna be, what color it’s gonna be, what the theme is,” Cross said.

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