Before you even notice the color of her eyes or the way her hair falls across the face, you notice the tattoos. They cover her body, neck, hands and her face almost in entirety. Names, pictures and what appears to be random words tell a story that most could never imagine.
Each time he beat her, choked her or made her feel less than- he apologized and she gained a tattoo as a symbol of his “love” and commitment to do better. Day after day she wore the memories of each unfulfilled promise. She hung her head in shame but felt the staring eyes of others piercing through her skin. Employers quickly turned her away. Friends never noticed the loneliness in her eyes. Family just didn’t get” what was wrong with her.” Strangers asked, why?
Little did they know there was no choice in the matter. She was a victim of Domestic Violence and the branding of his name and assortment of tattoos across her face was a means of obtaining power and control. The markings made her feel less than, unworthy of life and completely dependent upon him.
But she found hope at one of Safe Harbor’s shelters. She was met with compassion and given the space and time to share the truth beneath her skin. She gained confidence and slowly learned to make eye contact with the survivor in the mirror. The markings remained present, however they began to lose their power.
And in the midst of an ordinary afternoon, an extraordinary call came in. A local dermatologist responded to the plea of one of our family advocates to assist with the removal of the tattoos. The price of removal was cut drastically and a plan was made to begin the process. It would take many months and there would be associated pain, but none would be greater than what she had already endured.
And yet, like many victims it was difficult to let go of what had defined her for so long. But much like her journey to Safe Harbor, she found the courage and determination to move forward and re write her story on her own terms with her head held high in spite of.
In a few days she will move out of our shelter into her own apartment. In a few weeks she will begin the process of the tattoo removal. Today she smiles because she knows new life is possible.