According to the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners Partners for Vulnerable Youth, sex trafficking victims are sometimes forced to get a tattoo that indicates they belong to a certain pimp.
Jim Mellor and his wife Devon Mellor opened 3 Ravens Tattoo & Piercing one year ago in Athens, Georgia, and have offered the free service of covering tattoos or brandings that survivors of sex trafficking were forced to get.
For these Athens tattoo artists, helping these survivors cover the tattoos they received while being trafficked, will help them move forward.
“These marks carry through long after someone is lucky enough to be liberated from that life,” Devon Mellor said. “It’s the last thing that someone who’s struggling to go from being trafficked to get on their feet is going to have money for or put money toward."
The most common tattoos are crowns, roses, names and even barcodes. Jim Mellor said that the tattoos tend to be on victims’ wrists or necks.
While men and women have come to the Mellors’ tattoo shop to cover their ink, many customers don’t initially share their stories with the artists at the consultation.
“They were not forthcoming with it until you have them in the chair and kind of talk with them for a while, and then it comes out what the tattoo really is,” Devon said.
For Devon, providing a free cover-up tattoo service, is an extremely fulfilling way to support survivors, and help them close that traumatic chapter of their lives.
“It’s like therapy,” Devon said. “It’s a physical expression of a lot of the emotional stuff that’s going on inside their head that can’t get out. It’s a very physical, visual transformation.”
According to Jim, he has seen this as a life-changing experience for some clients.
“The [branding] takes away someone’s self-value, and when you take the tag away, everything changes,” Jim said.
Covering up the marks is typically finished in one setting, which allows the survivors to only have to go through the experience once. This also makes a tattoo cover-up more appealing than a tattoo removal, which requires multiple laser sessions.
Jennifer Davidson, an Athens resident and employee at Horton’s Drug Store, had read an article about the tattoos sex traffickers are forced to receive, and wanted to be of help to the Mellors, and the cause. Davidson now helps those looking for tattoo cover-ups find 3 Ravens.
“It’s very dark and disheartening to think that these things happen around us. But it’s important for us to know as a community that they do happen around us,” Davidson said.
To Davidson, a top priority is getting the information out. She plans on reaching out to the police department, local sexual assault center, The Cottage, and homeless shelters in the Athens area to let them know about 3 Ravens’ service.
“We are gifted with this community of Athens ... there is something of beauty and value in each person who lives here, no matter how or where they’re living," Davidson said.