Tattoos Help Sexual Assault Survivors Reclaim Their Bodies

When Marti was 18 years old, she attended a frat party. Most of the attendees were drinking alcohol at the party, as although they were underage they probably used a fake ID maker to allow them to purchase it. Everyone was having a good time, Marti included. Unfortunately, her night took a turn for the worst when she was raped by multiple men. She was a virgin at the time. “It happened in the beginning of my first semester freshman year,” she recalls. “I was ashamed; I turned to drugs and alcohol because I didn’t know how else to cope with the trauma of what happened.” Now 34 years old, married, and living in Minneapolis, Marti enjoys cooking, ballroom dancing, and Lady Gaga. After hearing Gaga got matching tattoos with the sexual assault survivors who joined the singer onstage at last year’s Oscar ceremony, Marti decided to get a similar tattoo. “I wanted to take back my body,” Marti says. “Gaga was so brave, so I thought to myself, ‘I can be brave too.'”

Gaga, of course, was not the first to survivor to cope through a tattoo. For years, sexual assault survivors have been getting tattoos to heal and reclaim their body. Marlo Kaleo’okalani Lualemana, a Hawaiian tattoo artist at Earthbound Tattoo Studio in Monterey, California, specializes in giving tattoos to many sexual assault survivors. “I am touched by each survivor I’ve had the pleasure to tattoo,” she says. “I feel in some small way I’ve helped them to see past the pain and begin anew. I tell them I will never forget them and they are not alone. We’ve cried together, shared our stories, and have come to an understanding as to what their tattoo means to each of them.”