Last weekend, we supported the hundreds of brave women who took to Instagram to share their stories of sexual abuse from prominent male tattoo artists – under the hashtag #tattoometoo. This in turn sparked an intense public discussion about what is normal and acceptable between an artist and a client.
by Alice Snape.
Content warning: sexual assault, rape, trauma.
We’ve known for too long that some parts of the tattoo world are toxic and that performative masculinity has been allowed to flourish. Many tattoo artists have been operating outside the law for so long that there are no set limits. No rules about what is and what is wrong, which makes young women particularly vulnerable. The lines are blurry. You are sore, uncomfortable, it can be difficult to realize when the limits are crossed.
If you have been sexually assaulted while getting a tattoo and feel able to do so, I urge you to report it to the police. I also compile stories, so email me at email@example.com (you can, of course, remain anonymous). What I realized, from my own experience and hearing that of others, is that we often don’t realize back then that mistreatment or abuse is happening. Stories I’ve heard so far range from rape and abuse to times that have made women uncomfortable – for example being told to take off their bras when they don’t have one. need, so that an artist’s face could hover too close to their flesh, or ordered to expose themselves unnecessarily without cover. . .
We’ve also probably all witnessed those who ignore the tattoo artist’s behavior, with things like, “Well you know what they look like”.
“I just wanted to mention the ‘jokes’ you so often have to endure in male dominated tattoo spaces,” one woman told me. “It’s like you’ve been forgotten and in fact, you might not want to hear about someone’s body. I spoke once when the four guys rated women out of 10 and there was no apology or anything, just a growl. I never went back. I just felt unwelcome and uncomfortable.
The tattoo industry is not the kind of industry that has a central body, there are no HR departments or DBS controls. There are no set rules. You can see a chat I had with tattoo artists, Dolly, Gemma May and Lucy, on YouTube on ways to combat sexual assault in the industry, including the possibility of seminars and training.
Earlier this year, we posted an article I wrote about another tattoo artist finishing a tattoo (read it here: If I Could Turn Back Time). Tattoo collectors have long felt bound by an outdated moral code that tattoo artists have the tattoo on your body. This is not true. If you feel uncomfortable with your artist, don’t feel pressured to keep getting tattooed by them. It’s your tattoo and your body. You do not have the privilege of getting tattooed by an artist, it is their privilege to mark your skin. You have to feel like you are being treated with respect, and if you aren’t, you can leave.
The tattoo world must and must change. It looks like the start of something. We need to end the normalization of sexual harassment – in EVERY SINGLE FORM in tattoo shops, in conventions, and inside the doors of private studios. Male tattoo artists shouldn’t be able to take advantage of their position of power to physically or mentally abuse and take advantage of their clients who literally put their trust in their hands.
Tattoo artists Dolly and Gemma May have also teamed up to create Tattoo Me Too Recovery Artists, which is a global directory of artists who have volunteered to repair, rework and finish parts for victims of known abusers in the tattoo industry. Allow survivors to feel empowered and hopefully have negative experiences of getting a tattoo. By known artists, they mean “Those who have been convicted, have publicly admitted their actions or have been repeatedly reported to us and display this type of behavior,” Dolly explains. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and your message will be treated in the strictest confidence, details you give will not be shared anywhere. Dolly told us that they are very busy and they may not be able to respond instantly, be patient and they will get back to you ASAP.
Lucy has also set up support for survivors of sexual assault tattoo artists (@tsass_uk) on Instagram to tackle sexist attitudes in the industry, help victims, raise awareness and dispel misconceptions about sexual abuse.
A GoFundMe page has also been set up, funds will go to artists who rework tattoos, invest in educational materials and foster the movement to permanently change the industry. Any remaining funds will be distributed among three charities: Help for women, Safeline Network and Survivors.
While there is power to speak, we urge you not to name and be ashamed online. Instead, contact us and we’ll help you out.
There was also an Insta thread that started circulating, with people indicating they felt safe when they got tattoos by [insert tattoo artist here]. This can have a trigger effect, as not everyone has the same experience with the same artist, so we are not suggesting to join us. Sometimes it takes so long for victims to realize what happened to them because it is not what they think of that person. .
There have been reports of this move in The Metro and Eastern Daily Press, which indicate that Norwich tattoo artists Brad Ward and Andrew Balls have announced on their Instagram accounts that they are quitting the industry and apologized for their behavior.
For further assistance, follow @tsass_uk or visit rapecrisis.org.uk. Contact police on 101 to report any sex offense.