Help sought to remove tattoos on 2,000 sex-trafficking victims

By Meagan Ellsworth, Courier


As a 10th person died Tuesday after being locked in a sweltering tractor trailer in San Antonio in a tragic human-trafficking attempt, The Woodlands-based Body Restore Med Spa & Laser Clinic owner and Phoenix Charity founder Tracie Mann gained ground to free a group of over 2,000 women from their trafficker brand.

Many of the women, whose location cannot be revealed to ensure their safety, were trafficked when they were arrested for drug and prostitution charges. Ready to move forward, they are still chained to their traffickers' brand and weighed down by a criminal record.

Some people who have survived trafficking, such as 41-year-old Spring resident and domestic sex trafficking survivor Allison Franklin, took the hit for their pimps.

"I took a drug charge for him so that he could stay free," said Franklin, who is a client of Mann's and a mentor for other sex trafficking survivors.

Mann, who is advocating about seven state and federal law changes to hold pimps and traffickers more accountable, is seeking the community's support to raise $150,000 to cover the cost of laser medical equipment, licensing and insurance needed to remove group tattoos and brands.

"We can remove all physical marks so they are no longer owned," Mann said. "They are no longer pieces of property."

Moved by Mann's ongoing collaboration with multiple law enforcement agencies to actively rescue people who have been trafficked in addition to tattoo removal, The First Presbyterian Church of Conroe donated $2,000 to The Phoenix Charity Tuesday. The church also is making survival kits out of T-shirts transformed into bags for the women.

"She has a proven success record of rescuing and rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking," said Penny Bell, the church's grant writer.

Mann is removing all 15 gang and trafficking tattoos covering a woman's face, hands, neck and legs with her trafficker's name and initials.

"The empowerment I felt when I finally got that final chapter closed ... I have no words for it," said Franklin, who now works in court sales and testified for state legislation. "All my tattoos were tied to a previous life I was no longer a part of. She is giving me an opportunity to recreate. There is a lot of emotional baggage that were tied to those tattoos."

Raped multiple times by her grandfather since the age of 3, Franklin set out on a path of destruction. The choice led her to drugs, gangs, violence, crime and eventually to at least two decades with her traffickers who kidnapped, branded, abused and exploited her, she said.

"I would run," Franklin said. "They would catch me, rape me, beat me and repeat the cycle. My knight in shining armor pretended to rescue me. … I didn't realize that they worked together to enslave American women. I did not think it was my pimp -- it was my husband. He loved me."

Even when her trafficker stabbed her in the chest, she avoided the hospital.

"You would think that would be my aha moment, but it wasn't," she said. "I had a customer that was a doctor that looked me over because I didn't want to put my pimp at risk. It was a defining moment.

Either I was going to kill him, he was going to kill me, or I could commit suicide."

She chose to attempt suicide by laying on the highway at a hotel where the traffickers sold drugs, she said.

"A hotel clerk pulled me out of the freeway," she said. "Somehow that act of compassion added some value to me and I started thinking maybe I do deserve more than this - maybe."

Still, Franklin wound up in jail facing her ninth felony charge in 2011. Later in life, she found it challenging to find employment with her felony record and tattoos -- a challenges this group of 2,000 women also face.

"These individuals are terribly brainwashed through all different types of methods, coercion, to fill a void that probably stems from childhood," said Franklin, who discourages labels such as prostitute or junkie that may prevent others from identifying trafficking victims. "These traffickers are experts at identifying and using all those vulnerabilities to exploit. So many don't self-identify as a victim which makes it even harder to help them."

Mann estimates that she and collaborative teams have helped more somewhere between 5,000 people 10,000 people who endured trafficking, including 85 clients last months, of which 75 percent received a tattoo and brand removal, pro-bono.

For more information on how to assist, visit thephoenixcharity.org.

To support this work donate HERE And thank you for your support.

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