Branding Tattoo Removal Project
Project iRISE began the Branding Tattoo Removal Project with the ultimate goal of removing tattoos from survivors of human trafficking in Toronto. We aimed to empower victims by removing brandings that are constant reminders of a traumatic past by removing these tattoos.
From October 2020 - to February 2022, we worked with local tattoo removal clinics to offer free branding removal services for our clients. Due to the dedication of our community members, volunteers and staff, Project iRISE funded the removal of 16 branding tattoos for 11 women survivors of human trafficking.
What Are Branding Tattoos?
Human traffickers use multiple tactics to execute control over their victims. One way is by forcing or coercing their victims into getting tattooed to signify that they belong to that trafficker. These tattoos are referred to as branding tattoos and can be a form of psychological bondage imposed on the victims.
The brandings are meant to show ownership or property of the trafficker, so the tattoo is commonly a unique personal symbol or the trafficker's name. Throughout this project, we have seen branding tattoos of the trafficker's name, initials, dollar signs or a specific branding logo which all signify the trafficker’s property. The location of the tattoos can vary but are commonly placed in highly visible locations such as the hands, neck or chest.
"Removing this tattoo is super important to me because it gives me a sense of freedom like my chains are finally being broken away from my trafficker. I no longer have to explain to the outside world why I have a man's name tattooed on my body and I no longer have to feel uncomfortable or guilty about my past. I no longer feel like an object or like I am a piece of property. Our bodies are our temples and removing this tattoo makes me love mine a lot more."
— iRISE participant