A woman who survived human trafficking has launched a not-for profit organization that aims to provide free removal of tattoo branding on victims of the sex trade.
Human traffickers can use many tactics to control their victims, which can include branding tattoos or marks.
“It signifies that that victim belongs to that trafficker, so she’s his property, so other traffickers and other girls will know that she belongs to him,” Rhonelle Bruder said.
“It creates many barriers just also to stop healing, but also for employment. So a lot of these branding tattoos will be in very visible places. This is intentional by the traffickers. So maybe on a neck, it’s on your hand — I’ve even seen some on a young person’s face.”
Bruder, who started a crowdfunding page for people to donate to help cover the costs of the branding removal, was a victim of human trafficking as a child. At the age of 16, she found herself homeless and lured into the sex industry by a “pimp” or human trafficker.
After a few months, Bruder was able to escape from her trafficker and turned her life around.
“It’s such a relational crime because they do something we call ‘love bombing’ where they take you out to dinner, they buy you nice things, tell you they love you. They give you everything that you need,” she said.
Helping survivors of human trafficking heal from their past
For more than a decade, Bruder has been raising awareness as an anti-trafficking expert and motivational speaker in the health care community.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she launched Project iRISE, a community based, not-for-profit organization that connects survivors of human trafficking to help rebuild and heal their lives. The organization provides innovative skills-based training and education and services for survivors of human trafficking to help them rebuild their lives.
“I wanted to develop my own program for survivors for a while, but it wasn’t until COVID-19 stuck that I had the time to dedicated to building the non-profit and assembling a team to support this work,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world.
It involves recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing or harbouring, or the exercise of control, direction, or influence over the movements of a person, in order to exploit or facilitate the exploitation of that person.
According to government statistics, 97 per cent of human trafficking victims are women and girls and 73 per cent of these victims are under the age 25.
Meanwhile, Bruder said having conversations about healthy relationships, boundaries, consent, social media, and how the internet works is critical, especially during a global pandemic where a lot of these young people are spending time online, where predators are connecting with them the most.
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