Tattoo artist in Sudbury helps human trafficking victims heal

Martin Bourgeois says he sees it every day: someone wants to cover an old tattoo or hide a scar on their body with a new piece of art.

Bourgeois is the owner of his own tattoo business in Sudbury, Studio 613. Recently, Sudbury and Area Victim Services approached him about a project that would allow victims of human trafficking to receive a new piece of art.

Sudbury is known as a hub for human trafficking. Sudbury and Area Victim services to survivors of human trafficking, including covering branding marks left by traffickers.

Human traffickers often brand their victims with tattoos or carvings/marks to symbolize ownership. Common themes include bar codes, initials, crowns and roses, and currency. Trafficking victims commonly receive tattoos on the neck, the arm, or above the groin.

“The clients that have been coming out of this are carrying very heavy baggage, and for them to finally be able to let go, it's truly an honour to be able to help them," Bourgeois said.

"Watching them leave with their heads held high is a great feeling."

Nicole St. Jean, of Sudbury and Area Victim Services, said getting the new ink is a huge moment for survivors.

“It's such a cathartic experience, right, to have that removed and have something beautiful put on their bodies," St. Jean said.

"So it’s a really big step in moving forward and moving away from the life they’ve been forced to live."

She said they continue to see an increase each year in the number of clients they serve.

In 2019, there were 60; in 2020, there were 70; and, 2021 is on track for 80 clients. Those figures are likely underreported, St. Jean said, because they only see people referred to them by police and social service agencies.

“A lot of victims are being missed because they’re afraid of coming forward," she said. "They’re fearful to come forward or they don’t see themselves as a victim or simply that no one's going to help them.”

Recently, the group created the Greater Sudbury Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, which will see 30 partner agencies looking at gaps and overlaps so services can be streamlined.