Tattoos have meaning. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule (that ice cream cone you got on your ankle at a drunken beach party during spring break), but the ideal scenario, tattoos represent a choice made of free will to have something beautiful and meaningful permanently engraved on your body. Unfortunately for many women, free will and beauty aren't part of the equation.
Meet Jennifer Kimpton.
Jen had a pretty rough childhood, experiencing poverty, abuse, and sexual assault. As she grew up, Jen did whatever she needed to do to survive, and after a series of abusive relationships, she felt like she had finally met The One. But things aren't always what they seem. Her boyfriend, a man who she trusted and loved, a man who abused her and got her hooked on intravenous drugs, ultimately sold her to a gang for drugs and money.
Her story, while absolutely tragic, is not unlike that of thousands of other women and children sold into sex slavery each year.
While it is impossible to get an accurate count of exactly how many, here's what we do know: The Polaris Project estimates that there are 27 million people in modern-day slavery around the world. That same data says that 70% of the women in that group are victims of sex trafficking. And yes, it does happen here in the United States. In fact, Jen's story, which starts in her youth, highlights one of the saddest facts: It 2000, it was estimated that in 244,000 children and youth in the United States were at risk of child sexual exploitation. (I know that was a lot of really depressing information right up front, but trust me, it gets better and less stat-heavy. Just needed to set the stage.)
Needless to say, Jen experienced some pretty terrible horrors during her time being trafficked, not the least of which was something known as "branding." Tattoo artists were placed in the drug houses to brand the girls with gang insignia and other markings to claim ownership over them. Jen ended up with gang signs on her neck, several tattoos with the name of her boyfriend, and in one of the sickest moves of all, the phrase "Property of" imprinted right above her genital area. Those tattoos remained long after she was able to break free and were constant reminders of her sexual exploitation nightmare. Wait. Did you catch that? The use of the word "was"? That's right.
Today Jennifer is a survivor.
Victims and survivors of human trafficking rarely come forward because life as a known survivor can be very, very hard.
But Jennifer is brave. She doesn't go into much detail about how she survived other than to say she cleaned herself up and got off drugs. However it happened, she is one of the lucky ones. When she had finally gotten her life on the right path, she refused to see the daily reminders of her nightmare imprinted on her skin. Jen had her tattoos removed and/or transformed into lovely works of body art, turning something very ugly into something very beautiful.
Now Jen works with her grassroots project Survivor's Ink to help other women who have tattoos, branding, and scars from their experiences do exactly what she did: erase them, cover them, and move on with their lives. She receives hundreds of applications and goes over every single one herself. This new purpose in life has helped her start over and helped other women see themselves as more than victims and statistics. But wait. There's more...
In accordance with an Ohio law in aimed at helping survivors of human trafficking move on with their lives, Jen has petitioned the court for one more important piece of her recovery puzzle.
Watch the video to find out what it is and — if you want to know — what made her break down with tears of joy. You may get a little misty too, but I promise, it will feel good. It definitely points toward the happy ending all women and children trafficked each year so richly deserve.