Almudena Toral for The Guardian
"I am no longer a human trafficking victim. I am a survivor."
Tattoos are a creative way to display beautiful and meaningful artwork on a human canvas. However, there are times when this unique form of art is being used to exploit human trafficking victims. It is becoming popular for traffickers to use tattoos as a way to forcibly brand their victims... marked as property, as if they were human cattle. These human trafficking victims are already being treated as though they are pieces of meat and now they are being enslaved by permanent marks of demoralizing tattoos. The thought of having to live the life of a victim, forced or coerced into being a sex slave, is horrible enough. But try to imagine being able to finally escape this life of darkness, only to be marked with a constant reminder of the violence you have suffered.
As a formally branded human trafficking victim, I can tell you that several emotions are attached to this psychological enslavement. Every time I took a shower, looked at my body or tried to see myself in a mirror, the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, hate, disgrace and shame overwhelmed me. I was reminded daily of the violent life I was struggling so hard to escape.
I can tell you, along my journey to freedom that I happened to be very fortunate... Fortunate enough to be able to move from the shadows of that darkness and walk out into the light. God is the only one who knows the truly horrible sadness of enslavement that was my life. I think because of all the pain God knows I endured, He sent me a special army of angels to help. After learning of my struggles to reclaim my body, one of these heaven-sent angels sponsored me so I could have my brandings covered up. I am no longer marked with the Name Of, or as the Property Of... a man that manipulated me, abused me and coerced me into the streets to be a sex slave.
It has been a very difficult journey to escape the life I once felt so stuck in, but it has been beautifully worth it. I can now say I am no longer a human trafficking victim. I am a survivor. Now I am able to look at myself in the mirror. And when I do, I see a mother, daughter, grand-daughter, and a miracle of God's love. Now when I look in that mirror, instead of seeing an abused sex slave, I see a woman. A beautiful woman who rose from one of the ugliest and darkest places imaginable. My chains of bondage have now been broken. I have finally been able to reclaim my body. My once demoralizing tattoos are now symbols of strength and freedom.
I am now extremely motivated to become one of God's angels by helping other victims find their way to the light that is at the end of that dark and incredibly long tunnel. A hand to hold that will understand, and can help their transition from being a victim to a survivor. To transition from enslavement and into freedom as I have. I want to help break the psychological hold of their perpetrators. I want to help them to be free of violent brandings that mark them as property. I want to enable them to erase the dark memories of enslavement and constant reminders of these marks. I want to use this unique form of art to help break the physical chains of bondage. I want to help remove or cover their brandings with something that is beautiful, meaningful and symbolic... which to me, is what art is supposed to be. But I know that art can become much more than that.
Art can be a rebirth. Art can ease pain and break chains of bondage. Art can heal a broken soul. Art can be the freedom of a slave. Art can even change the lives of these victims as it did mine. We can help these victims restore their self-image and self-confidence by allowing them to reclaim their bodies. We can help them learn how to love themselves and appreciate their bodies by covering ugly scars and brandings with beautiful artwork. Look how far my journey to freedom has brought me. I wonder how many are trying to escape the darkness and are suffering from a psychological restraint like I did. Can you imagine how beautiful this world would be if we could help these deserving people renew their lives and reclaim their bodies? IT CAN BE DONE, and it can be done through art. I am a prime example of how art has been used to change a human trafficking victim's life.