JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Tattoos can showcase a loved one, a fond memory or a passionate interest. But, they can also serve as unwanted and painful reminders for sex trafficking survivors, who are often branded by traffickers.
That’s why Jessica Lamb, a trafficking survivor herself, created Atlanta Redemption Ink. The nonprofit provides free tattoo removals and cover ups to survivors of sex trafficking, as well as survivors of domestic abuse, former gang members, former self-harmers and those in addiction recovery.
“We connect them with a trusted artist and then they help them break free from those marks,” Lamb said. “So they’re no longer labeled by a previous thing that has been put on them, because it was never their identity to begin with.”
Whether covering trafficking brands, self-harm scars or track marks, Lamb said many survivors who are starting a new phase of their life feel like a cover-up is the final step on the road to recovery.
She knows many people who would not wear short sleeves or open-toed shoes for fear of revealing their scars or unwanted tattoos. With new artwork, they can walk around with confidence.
“This is the last part of their healing, their journey,” said Crystal Boyd, one of the artists who participates in the program. “This transitions them into the part of life where they’re free from it. Being part of that journey with someone is very moving.”
For two years, Lamb has worked with Boyd, the owner of Pur Ink Tattoos and Piercings in Johns Creek. Boyd is one of about a dozen tattoo artists throughout the state working with trauma survivors through Atlanta Redemption Ink.
Last year, Atlanta Redemption Ink received more than 200 applications for assistance. Boyd estimates she has helped at least a dozen survivors so far.
“Ideally, you want to cover something so that you can’t tell what was there before,” she said. “A lot of times, the tattoos were done not in a shop, so they’re usually scarred or really dark, so there’s an issue that makes it more complicated for coverage.”
Boyd, a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, was a textile and graphic designer for 16 years before she began tattooing 7 years ago. She saw the opportunity to open Pur Ink, at 11890 Douglas Road, in May 2018 when the previous tattoo studio moved out.
“Everyone who comes through our door, we want them to feel welcome,” Boyd said. “We also want to help out in the community. We’re different than other tattoo shops; everyone here is very family-oriented.”
Boyd hopes by helping trauma survivors, along with other charity work, she and her employees can change the perception of tattoo artists. Most people think of tattoo artists as “hoodlums,” she said, but most of her artists are parents, with families just like the rest of the community.
“Shedding light on human trafficking is very important to us,” Boyd said. “I don’t just want to talk about it when it’s January or when the Super Bowl is here, that’s an issue all the time.”
“You think ‘Alpharetta, Johns Creek, this isn’t happening here,’” Lamb said. “But it is. It’s happening just as much as it’s happening in downtown Atlanta.”
Both encouraged people to keep their eyes open for suspicious behavior and to become involved in volunteer work in their community.
“I feel like no matter what your profession is or what your walk of life is, you can always volunteer in your community,” Boyd said. “I never would have though a few years ago there was something I could do with tattooing to help people, or that I could have the impact on someone like I’ve had.”
For more information about Atlanta Redemption Ink, visit atlantaredemptionink.com or call 678-926-9946. For more information about Pur Ink tattoo and piercing studio, visit purinktattoo.com or call 770-558-4728.
The national human trafficking hotline is 1-888-373-7888.