Branded – Part Three

This post is so long overdue, in fact, there’s a number of posts that are overdue, posts that I’ve been half writing in my head but never made it as far as here.  My life has been… complicated the past few months.  Not all ‘bad’ complications, in fact a lot of ‘good’ complications, but I’ve just not had any energy leftover to try and come back here and write the things that I need and want to write.  A lot of those complications are for other posts, though.  Here, I’m planning on writing about my tattoo and just how much of an effect getting it has made on my life.

If you haven’t already read parts one and two and you’re too lazy to go back, then here’s the sum up (if you’ve read my writing before, you’ll know my version of succinct and summing up is about six pages):

At the age of five, my mum lost her shit with me and after throwing a glass at me and beating the crap out of me, she picked up a piece of broken glass and carved the word ‘whore’ into my thigh.  It was carved into me numerous times over the years, by my mum, step-dad, clients, the scars overlap one another.

Back then, those 22-23 years ago, I don’t think she intended it to be a branding as such.  If anything, it’d be a little on the nose if that was her intention, but it’s definitely what it ended up being.  Then again, being on the nose doesn’t exactly discount it.  My mum was arrogant, confident that she wouldn’t be caught, wouldn’t be stopped.  And you know what, she might have been right, despite several investigations into CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation) in my home town (Which is now infamous in this country, you think trafficking, you inevitably end up thinking of my home town.) my mum and her ‘colleagues’ are still high and dry.  Whether it was her intention or not, it did become a branding, though.  Not just for myself, but for the other women and girls I was trafficked with, though, theirs came with numbers as well as the word ‘whore’.

It was perfect, not only was it a great thrill for clients, to see the word ‘whore’ carved out on the piece of meat they were about to rape, to see it in a place that only themselves and others that were raping her, me, would see, but it worked so well in destroying us too.

Waking up each and every single day, seeing the sum of what you are, what they made you, carved into you, knowing you can never wash it away.  You can wash away the body fluids, you can try and wash away the memories of what they did to you, you can dissociate so far away that you barely even remember, but you can’t get rid of a scar.  Each and every single day there’s a reminder right there, you’re a whore, you’re just a whore, you’ll never be anything more than a whore.  Your body isn’t yours, it belongs to them, the ones who sell you and the ones they sell you to.  Trafficking already has such a profound affect on the body, physically and emotionally, branding and in my experience, one that’s so on the nose, has an even greater effect.  How are you supposed to ever forget, move on with your life, deal with the memories and the trauma if there’s a permanent representation of it carved into your skin?

I didn’t look at my body for years.  Every time I did, I saw their hands, their bodies, I was reminded that my body wasn’t my body, that I had never had autonomy.  Even after exiting, so close to five years ago now, believing my body was mine was near impossible.  I hated my body, every single inch of it, but especially my thigh, especially those scars.  Even after they started to fade and reading the word became harder and harder, I couldn’t help but hate it, I couldn’t help but want to throw up each time I saw those shiny strips of skin.  Being able to read the word or not made no difference, knowing it was there was enough.

And that was where Survivor’s Ink came in, those wonderful, amazing and so caring women do so, so, so much to help women like me.  They fund tattoos so women can get their branding covered and that’s exactly what they did for me.  Despite being at the other end of the world, despite having never met me, these women reached out and gave me a level of love and care and understanding that I had so rarely seen before.

They found an amazing woman based here in the UK who was so kind to me, who did everything she could to support me, to find someone who would be willing to cover up my scarring as part of a charity project, to make sure she found someone who would do it right and not leave me with a sub standard tattoo.  She also offered to give me a voice, to get my story out and was so compassionate and understanding when I said I wasn’t ready.

That amazing woman found an amazingly talented tattooist and artist.  I have to admit, I was wary and on edge at first, I have not let a man touch me, especially not anywhere near my thigh in more than five years.  I wasn’t comfortable and I was incredibly anxious at the thought even though I trusted the women who had helped me so far to not put me at risk and I knew that my girlfriend would never let anything happen to me.  However, he was so gentle and understanding and professional that my fears were eased almost straight away.  Which is a pretty impressive step for me.  I can’t usually even cope being in a room with men without freaking out, never mind actually letting one touch me at all without freaking out.

I got the first half of my tattoo done on the 5th Nov. last year and from that point onwards, my life started to change.  I think I maybe underestimated just how much of an effect getting it done would have on me.  I knew how much of an effect the scars, branding, being there had on me, but I don’t think I truly understood just how much of an effect them not being there would really have.  I think, well, I think I’d just gotten too used to things not going right for me, for things not changing for me.  Part of me didn’t even really believe it was going to happen, I was partially expecting to turn up there and for it all to just be an elaborate prank because of course I don’t deserve things like this.  And even when I get things like this, it’s so easy to believe it won’t make a real difference because what can really heal the pain and trauma of having been raped for the majority of your life?

I seriously underestimated it, but even from just having half of my tattoo done, where not even all the scars were covered had such a profound effect on my life.  I found myself not hating my body quite as much.  I couldn’t stop looking at it, even though I’ve spent the majority of my life conveniently pretending my right thigh doesn’t exist, letting my eyes just slip over it, but all of a sudden I had a new part of my body, a part of my body that was really feeling like it was mine, like it belonged to me.  I even wore shorts that revealed part of that area in the hot weather recently.  Something I have basically just never done before, if I’d ever worn shorts in the past, it was always with tights or leggings, I never just wore shorts, especially not ones where even just a small portion of my thigh would be visible.

My body, even with only half the tattoo, was starting to feel like mine again.  For a start, my mum would fucking hate my tattoo.  Even before I actually started looking like an ugly dyke, she said I looked like one and my tattoo will just emphasise that for her.  Strong women?  Pfft, not something my mum even slightly appreciates.  (It’s much harder to prostitute and abuse tough women, right?)  It’s kinda almost like a little ‘fuck you’ to her, to all of them.  Not only have I covered their branding, but I covered it with something that is me, because despite what I feel, despite what I believe, I do recognise that on some level I am strong because hey, I’d probably not be here now if I wasn’t.  It’s a sign of me healing the damage they did, it’s a sign of me getting stronger, it’s a sign of me valuing my body as my own and not theirs, it’s a sign of me taking my life back as my own, it’s a sign of me deciding that their rules have no place in my life any more.

And I truly believe that she (the tattoo) encompasses all of that, there’s such a quiet strength about her and I’m just so happy, she’s just so perfect.

Now that she’s complete, I’m in love with her even more.  I finally, for the first time in my life, feel like my body is mine.  If I could have a bath yet (I can’t for a little while longer), I actually would and I wouldn’t care, I wouldn’t care that I was able to see my thigh, I wouldn’t care that it was right there in front of me.  It’s mine, it’s supposed to be there and now all I can see is me, I can see my own strength, my own healing.

Getting this done was a decision on some level.  It was a decision to not give up, to not go back.  You’d think five years being exited would mean I’d already made that decision, but I hadn’t, not really.  Whenever things go wrong, whenever my independence and freedom is even slightly threatened, my mind goes back there.  The DWP threaten me and I potentially may lose all my income, my head goes there.  Whenever my mental health takes a turn for the worse, my head goes there.  When you’ve spent your entire life being a ‘whore’ then it’s easy to believe that that’s all your worth, all you deserve.  Especially when it’s been beaten into you, carved into you.  Especially when everyone around you has reinforced the idea over and over and over and over again.  How are you supposed to fight a lifetime of conditioning?  How are you supposed to ever believe you’re worth anything more?  And when your freedom is so fragile, as it always is because us exited women don’t exactly have it easy – mental and physical health conditions from trauma, low incomes, relying on benefits, no or very little work experience, no or very little education.  I’m actually one of the lucky ones, I have a partial university education, I was able to get placement and paid and voluntary work experience throughout university.  My mental health is fucked, my physical health not exactly great and I am relying on the DWP not trying to kill me, but as and when I’m able to work again, I do have a bit of a footing that not all other exited women have.  Though, then again, who looks favourably on a five year employment gap because you’re so bat shit crazy you could barely look after yourself?  But yeah, our freedom can feel so very fragile.  The risk of homelessness, not being able to find a legit job, loss of income because the benefits system is fucked, our own mental health (and the subsequent lack of care) and not being able to shake the feeling that we’re worth anything more.  Yeah, it’s easy to go back, it’s easy to believe it’s your only option.  Our own personal hells are also our own personal safety nets.

But, I think, I think I’ve decided I’m not.  Getting my branding covered up, it was a decision to not go back.  It was a decision to go forwards.

It’s weird, how a bit of ink can seem to change your entire life.  But then, I guess I knew that, not all brandings are scarifications, most are tattoos.  But this little bit of ink, it has completely changed my life.  It’s changed my life in so many ways and in such ways that I can barely even put them into words.

This body is mine now.  This life is mine.  And I could never put into words just how grateful I am to the people that made this happen.  I don’t think I’ll ever have the words.

The words I do have are this, please donate to Survivor’s Ink.  I know I’m not especially good at putting into words the effect that they have, but they do so much good and tattoos aren’t cheap, travel isn’t cheap but the effect that it has, the fundamental difference it’ll make to the lives of women who have been prostituted is immeasurable.  I can’t put into words just how much they’ve done for me, just how much of a difference this has made to my life, but they really are just so amazing and do such important work.

I’ve not included the names of the individuals who helped me because I don’t know how comfortable they’d be with that and I’m too lazy/out of it to text/email and check.  But know that I truly appreciate everyone involved, from the amazing women at Survivor’s Ink, to the wonderful woman and journalist over here who helped me so much and offered me a voice, to the amazing tattooist who so kindly designed and tattooed this wonderful piece of art and my wonderful girlfriend who stood with me and supported me every step of the way – even when I was crushing her hand during the tattoo!

RS.

Oh, whoops, I almost forgot to share my beautiful art work!!!

Before

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Halfway There

14925804_921204201342997_8227903415356695773_n

Done!

17799009_1019215951541821_2147606035073767595_n17796654_1019218504874899_4952870657150840022_n

Any name suggestions would be greatly appreciated!  She’s a Valkyrie so a Nordic/Valkyrie name would be great, but I can’t decide!!

RS.

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