ACS unveils free tattoo removal program for trafficking victims, ex-gang members

ACS unveils free tattoo removal program for trafficking victims, ex-gang members

Medical professionals have signed on to perform the service for free.

Tattoo removal services will be offered to young victims of trafficking and former gang members through a new Administration for Children's Service program.
Tattoo removal services will be offered to young victims of trafficking and former gang members through a new Administration for Children’s Service program. Photo Credit: MTV

The city Administration for Children’s Services has teamed up with medical professionals to offer free tattoo removals to young trafficking victims and former gang members.

The program first began to take shape after ACS workers heard about a teen sex trafficking victim who had her pimp’s initials tattooed onto her forehead, according to the agency.

It’s not uncommon for traffickers and gang leaders to tattoo young people as a sign of ownership and often those youths do not have the financial means to remove the brands after they’ve escaped from their situation.

Nearly 3,000 New York City youths were identified as either trafficked or at risk of trafficking in a 2017 report by the NYC Safe Harbour Program — a 21 percent spike in the number of minors recorded in its 2016 study, according to children’s services.

ACS Commissioner David Hansell, who announced the NYC Child Tattoo Eradication Project and Network pilot program on Monday, said the startling uptick demonstrates a need for the new initiative and other services.

“No young person should be forced to go through life with a permanent mark of exploitation and abuse on their body,” Hansell said in an emailed statement.

Many of the program’s partners noted that removing unwanted tattoos can make a difference in that person’s ability to emotionally recover and move forward on a better life path.

“As dermatologists, we often see tattoo removal’s ability to enhance self-esteem, self- worth, and enable new beginnings,” said Dr. Marie Leger, with Metro Dermatology in Elmhurst, Flushing, and the Bronx. “This is even more the case with vulnerable youth.”

Several youths within ACS have already come forward to express interest in having tattoos removed, the agency said.

With the program still in its beginning stages, ACS intends to assess tattoo removal requests and prioritize youths with the most immediate needs. The agency hopes to expand the service as more medical providers with tattoo removal experience volunteer for the program.

Lauren Cook