A trusted network of tattooists have taken a stand against abusers who have been exploiting their power over vulnerable clients.
For too long, businesses have been tarnished by artists who use abuse their position to sexually assault customers, make derogatory remarks and send sexually explicit messages. Some have tried to ply customers with alcohol and drugs and others have offered to do pieces for free in exchange for sex.
As hundreds of women broke their silence over the weekend about the abuse they have experienced and others in the industry have said enough is enough. They’ve teamed up to form TattooMeToo Recovery Artists, a directory of trusted professionals offering to fix, rework or finish abusers’ pieces for free to help victims move on.
Among those is Wigan based artist Gemma May, who has been collating stories from women across the country who have bravely come forward. She told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s very much been a boy’s club for quite a long time. People are afraid to break the silence, especially artists. They don’t want to ruin their career.
‘There’s people who’ve said stuff in the past and they’ve been shut down by people because there’s people who are bigger than them in the industry.’
Gemma says many victims often dismiss their mistreatment and didn’t realise it was a form of abuse at the time. Meanwhile many have shrugged off colleagues’ behaviour, saying things like ‘Well you know what they’re like’.
She says the industry is not the sort of industry that has a central body, HR departments or DBS checks.
In her eyes, getting a licence is ‘too easy’ and she would like to see some kind of system where artists could have theirs revoked for improper behaviour towards customers.
Many of these predators are big names and travel to tattoo conventions all over the world. Luckily around 300 artists from multiple countries have got on board with TattooMeToo.
Victims of abuse who get in touch with the scheme can get cover-ups, re-works, finishes, black out work and also laser removal.
Gemma, 26, added: ‘When it’s been done by someone else they’re taking away from that particular moment it happened with an abuser. They’re basically removing a scar.’
Artists on the scheme have been discussing the idea of an online rating system where customers can leave feedback on how they’ve been treated by tattooers.
But until then asking the right questions is vital. Gemma added: ‘It isn’t all artists and it doesn’t actually happen that often.
‘There’s a lot of good male artists and we’ve got a lot of male artists in the project for that reason.
‘We don’t want people to be disheartened or afraid to be tattooed by guys. Don’t be afraid to ask around about experiences. By asking that you’re protecting yourself.’
On its Instagram page, TattooMeToo says: ‘We are doing our best to vet the artists getting involved in this project, that being said if you have had a negative experience with anyone on this page please contact us via DM.
‘If you have been a victim of sexual harassment or assault at the hands of a tattooer, please come forward and message us. DMs will be treated confidentially and you will not be named.
‘But we are trying to create a list of people known for this behaviour so we can keep people safe in future and also protect this page from predators.’
The scheme’s founders have also set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Women’s Aid, Safeline and Survivors Network and for educational items to improve the industry.
It also shares a link to Tattooist Sexual Assault Survivor Support – a network seeing to help victims of the industry, spread awareness and dispel misconceptions about sexual abuse.
On the fundraising page Gemma says: ‘A client should feel safe and enjoy their experience!
‘We are working hard to bring this issue to everybody, to really try and make a positive impact on the industry moving forward. And hopefully also educate people in understanding what is NOT OK, and artists how to properly understand this too.
‘We have brought hundreds of people together in this fight against abusers and
unfortunately this also means hundreds of victims of known/outed abusers within the tattoo industry. They are doing these tattoos for FREE, using their own time and supplies. This is incredible.
‘So many of these young girls and women have been preyed on and now live with their scars of abuse tattooed on them. Some literally scarred and damaged, some unfinished as they’re too afraid to complete it. Others see them as a constant reminder.
‘This is a service to help those who feel they have been a victim of sexual harassment or assault to a tattoo artist who has abused their power and trust.
‘Leaving them permanently scarred with their artwork. This is for artists who have a number of claims/evidence against them. They’re not all prosecuted, but they have been seen as “known” [as abusers in the industry]. These people deserve beautiful artwork that reminds them of a beautiful time.
‘This is a worldwide campaign to help the women effected by this as some of these people travelled from all over the world for work. So I hope we can accommodate so many of these wonderful people. We will help them heal.’
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