PHOENIX — When Kathy Givens walked onstage during a plenary session at the annual conference of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery to reflect on her 9-month ordeal being sex trafficked in Texas more than 20 years ago, you could hear a pin drop.
“One of the scariest things about the life of sex trafficking is not knowing who’s going to be on the other side, hydrocodone a332 ” said Ms. Givens, who now lives in Houston. “There was some violence. There were some horrible things that happened. But you know what was really scary? When I got out. People may ask, ‘How’s that so? You escaped your trafficker. The past is behind you. Why were you afraid?’ I was afraid because I didn’t know that I had community. I didn’t know that community or that society would care about someone like me.”
Dr Paul M. Friedman and Kathy Givens
She said that she found herself immobilized by fear of being shamed in society and labeled a sex trafficking victim, and wondered if she could overcome that fear and if anyone would view her as human again. Once free from her trafficker, she began a “healing journey,” which included getting married, raising four children, and re-enrolling in college with hopes of becoming a social worker. In 2020, she and her husband founded Twelve 11 Partners, an organization committed to supporting human trafficking survivors.
“I was working in the anti-trafficking field helping other survivors … who have experienced this horrific crime,” she said. “I thought I was on my way.” But one “stain” from her sex trafficking past remained: The name of her trafficker was tattooed on her skin, “a reminder of what I’d gone through.”
Ms. Givens was eventually introduced to Paul M. Friedman, MD, the current ASLMS president and one of the nearly 90 physicians in the United States and Canada who perform tattoo removal free of charge for trafficking survivors as part of the New Beginnings: Tattoo Removal Program, a partnership between the ASLMS and the National Trafficking Sheltered Alliance (NTSA) that was formed in 2022. According to a survey that Dr. Friedman and colleagues presented at the 2022 annual ASLMS conference, an estimated 1 in 2 sex trafficking survivors have branding tattoos, and at least 1,000 survivors a year could benefit from removal of those tattoos.
“To date, 87 physicians in the U.S. and one in Canada have stepped forward to volunteer their services to be part of this program,” Dr. Friedman, who directs the Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center in Houston, said at this year’s meeting. “My goal is to double this number by the next annual conference,” he added, noting that trauma-informed training is part of the program, “to support the survivor experience during the treatment process.”
“Dermatologists are uniquely positioned to aid in efforts to assist those experiences in trafficking with our training to recognize and diagnose relevant signs on the skin and to assist patients with certain aspects of care and recovery including the treatment of the disease of scars and tattoos,” Dr. Friedman said. “Ultimately, we hope to create a database together to improve recognition of branding tattoos to aid in identifying sex trafficking victims.”
Ms. Givens, who sits on the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, said that she was able to truly close the door on her sex trafficking past thanks to the tattoo removal Dr. Friedman performed as part of New Beginnings. “It means the world to me to know that I can now be an advocate for other individuals who have experienced human trafficking,” she told meeting attendees.
“Again, one of the scariest things is not knowing that you have community. I was scared of losing hope, but I’m standing here today. I have all the hope that I need. You have the power to change lives.”
This story originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.
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