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“Branding” in Abusive Relationships

One of the most defining components of intimate partner violence (IPV) is control, which strongly affects how an abusive relationship operates. As explained in STM Learning’s publication Intimate Partner Violence, perpetrators of abuse will often go to great lengths to maintain control over their victims.

Branding and Control

One method that some abusers may use to exert control is “branding” their victims, or forcing them to get tattoos or another type of body modification. These marks usually include the abuser’s name, and they are meant to symbolize the abuser’s ownership of the victim.

This form of abuse can be particularly traumatic, as body modification should be a personal choice and is often viewed as an expression of individuality. For a victim, having a modification imposed on their body may understandably feel extremely violating. Depending on the location of the mark and the skill level or forcefulness of the tattooist, getting a body modification can also be a process that is physically painful for the victim.

While abusers typically impose branding on their victims, some may instead opt to tattoo the name of their victim onto their own bodies. By branding themselves, abusers may hope to coerce their victims into feeling guilty for wanting to end the relationship. In using the tattoo as a sign of their “love” for the victim, abusers can make their victims feel a sense of obligation to put up with abusive behavior.

Prolonged Trauma

Because of their permanent nature, forced body modifications may prolong a survivor’s trauma, as the physical evidence of abuse will remain long after they escape their abuser. These modifications can be detrimental to the recovery of survivors, as they are being reminded of their abuse over and over again. Undergoing the process of tattoo removal, though it can also be a painful procedure, may be a way to help survivors move on.

This is why some people have made it their mission to help survivors get rid of tattoos they had received from an abusive partner or as a victim of human trafficking, either by removing the modification or creating new art to cover it up.

Tattooing in Recovery

Some abusers may also attempt to control their partner’s bodies by forbidding them from expressing themselves in a number of ways – limiting their victim’s ability to choose how to dress, what activities they do, and how they can alter their appearance. This may be part of the reason why body art has become a popular method of healing for survivors of IPV.

Survivors may view body modification an act of self-reclamation, and the change can stand as a bookmark for a new chapter in their lives. Tattooing can also be used to cover up scars, which may be a therapeutic way for some survivors to eliminate certain physical reminders of their past traumatic experiences.

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