Branded by Pimps But Rebranded by New Life


By: Sara Kim

Human trafficking may be closer to our lives than many of us assume. Although many people in the United States picture poor areas of hunger-stricken countries when it comes to the phrase “human trafficking,” it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of women and children in the U.S. are sold for sexual exploitation. Much of this trade is carried out by gang members, and has become a significant problem in areas such as Chicago, Miami, and Ohio, contributing to the $9.5 billion human-trafficking industry in the United States. One distinct practice that formed from this operation is the branding of women and children who are trafficked. Branding takes the form of either tattooing or scarring with symbols or words that mark the victims as properties of the abusers. Such permanent marks leave the victims with an inerasable reminder of their past, even after leaving the industry.

Jennifer Kempton is one of the survivors of human trafficking in the United States, and was branded numerous times by men who had enslaved her. Coming from an abusive past of violence and drug addiction, Kempton was eventually sold to a gang by her boyfriend. Even after leaving the life of slavery, Kempton was constantly reminded of her past by the tattoos that were forcibly marked on her. However, instead of allowing such marks to drag her down, Kempton took action by altering the tattoos into symbols that were meaningful to her. To Kempton, this experience was symbolic of the beginning of a new life of hope and freedom. Today, Kempton is free of addiction and is starting fresh with a new job and an involvement with her church. She even started an organization called the Survivors Ink, through which she accepts applications and gives scholarships to human trafficking victims who desire a fresh start by covering up their tattoos. Through the program, Kempton has helped out 7 other survivors through fundraisers at churches and local community events.

Human trafficking survivors daily face the consequences of their past, through things like the label that is put on them by society, or perhaps by the emotional trauma they experienced. To make matters worse, the survivors who were branded must even struggle with physically seeing their past marked on their body. Hence organizations such as Kempton’s Survivors Ink aims to encourage the survivors and give them the experience of a new beginning by allowing them the chance to cover up their past with tattoos that represent a special meaning in their lives.

Sara (Da Som) Kim is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes.


Kelly, Annie. “ ‘I carried his name on my body for nine years’: the tattooed trafficking survivors reclaiming their past.” The Guardian. 15. Nov 2014. []. 4/24/15.

Citation: Sylwia Kapuscinski []


Leave a Comment