I-Team Report: Erasing the Ink - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report: Erasing the Ink

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It will never happen to me. It’s a common thought shared by many about human trafficking, and it’s exactly what Jessica thought.

“I was scared and I wanted to go home, I was done. I couldn’t do it anymore,” said Jessica, whose last name and identity have been concealed for her protection.

Jessica said she and her friend were traveling from a vacation in California back to Flint when car trouble left them stranded at a truck stop in Battle Mountain, Nevada.

They had no money and no way to get home.

They said a man offered to help them, but instead he took them to a hotel in Reno, Nevada. The place where Jessica’s worst nightmare would soon come true.

“I wanted to go to bed. As I went to bed I was informed that I was not going to bed. I was getting in the shower to get ready and he took my phone and put us all on Backpage," Jessica said.

Backpage is a website similar to Craigslist. It is often used by prostitutes and johns looking for their services.

She was being held against her will and said it felt like days had gone by when the unthinkable happened.

“Four days with no sleep or nothing, couldn’t keep my eyes open and in that process I had fallen asleep. And that’s when he took advantage of me,” Jessica said.

After that, Jessica said the days started blending together, but the thought of escape never left her mind.

“He threatened to kill me. He knew my mom’s number, he had my address, he had everything," she said.

Despite that, she took a leap of faith, running from the hotel room, into the elevator and down to the front desk where they called 911.

“He came after me, but I closed the elevator door," Jessica said.

Both Jessica and her friend were rescued that day, but there are many other women with similar stories around the world who haven’t been so lucky.

Many of them branded with tattoos or markings from pimps.

Those markings stuck on their bodies. Ink that no amount of water and soap can wash off. It's a constant visual reminder the past abuse they’ve endured can’t be simply erased, just like a tattoo.

But that is something one local woman is hoping to change.

Julie Hall is the founder of Empower Ink Tattoo, located in Flint.

“Empower Ink, right! I started out two years ago with the tattoo removal knowing that people need stuff off," Hall said.

Hall said they prefer to cover existing tattoos with something else, but they can remove it all together.

“I use a tattoo machine. I just go over the skin and kinda overwork it and it’s a foreign entity in the body so the scab pulls the ink," Hall said.

She offers her services to anyone who has markings from a dark past and is hoping to turn over a new life.

Such as those who are recovering from a drug addiction with track marks, or ex-cons with tattoos they got while in prison.

Hall said she donates her time and supplies to help people take a small step away from the tragic circumstances that may have led them to get tattoos or markings in the first place.

It may be small, but to them, it could mean a world of difference.

“The girls with trafficking, they don’t have to wake up and look at that anymore,” Jessica said.

Hall is trying to raise money to get a Charitable Solicitation License. That way she can receive donations to help expand the outreach of Empower Ink.

A resource that translates into support for the people who never thought it would happen to them.

“So many girls think they have to do what they have to do because they’re single moms or this or that, and they get stuck. There needs to be more options. People need to know that there’s help, you’re not stuck and you don’t have to do that,” Jessica said.

 And while Jessica has been back to her ‘normal life’ for a while now, raising three foster kids and taking care of her mother, not a day goes by where she doesn’t think about her surroundings. Constantly looking over her shoulder, still fearful of the now incarcerated man who exploited and sexually assaulted her.

“He’s from Detroit, he’s from here. So, I can’t go to Detroit. If his friend saw me and knew me, he knows a lot of people I’m sure. You still have contact in prison no matter what, so no, I don’t feel safe at all," Jessica said.

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