Todor Tsvetkov

Human Trafficking: A Survivor’s Story

This is the second part of The Pioneer's article series on human trafficking. Related articles are linked at the bottom of this post.

November 15, 2016

One might think that a survivor of human trafficking is finally free from the grasp of slavery. Despite emancipation, most survivors remain bound by a different type of chain: the shackles of remembrance.

Feeding into that remembrance is the presence of “brandings” (tattoos) that once marked the victim as the property of his or her trafficker. The brandings are scars of a past life, one that is best left forgotten. Unfortunately, they make moving on difficult for victims. One survivor, Jennifer Kempton of Columbus, Ohio, is looking to change that.

Don’t just get a textbook education; get a real life education and take action to make changes in the injustices you find”

— Jennifer Kempton

Jennifer’s childhood was marked by abuse and neglect. Her challenging background led to abusive relationships in adulthood. Jennifer entered into the horrors of human trafficking when she was sold by her boyfriend, whom she trusted and loved, into slavery. Throughout her 5-6 years of captivity, Jennifer was sold and raped countless times. She was consumed with thoughts of suicide and subsequently attempted to end her life.

Miraculously, she survived and escaped captivity. However, the scars remained. In an interview with The Pioneer, she revealed, “I [still] suffer from complex PTSD, nightmares from the violence inflicted upon me, not to mention the constant struggle of overriding my trust issues.”

As Jennifer recovered, her brandings constantly reminded her of the horrors that she endured. She worried that the tattoos would forever torment her, feeding into the tragic belief that she was nothing more than the property of her former captors. These fears were mollified when a local tattoo artist, Charles Waldo, offered to cover up Jennifer’s brandings. Waldo was able redesign the existing tattoos, transforming them into images that symbolized a new beginning for Jennifer.

Inspired by Waldo’s work, Jennifer decided that she could make a difference. She founded Survivor’s Ink, an organization that sponsors survivors who wish to have brandings covered up. Survivor’s Ink also raises money to provide essential goods, such as food and toiletries, to victims who have nowhere else to turn. In addition to her work at Survivor’s Ink, Jennifer visits the Columbus slums where she was once held captive with the goal of providing current victims with the strength to escape.

ht-hs-posterU.S. Dept. of Homeland Security

Through her efforts, Jennifer has helped numerous individuals afflicted by human trafficking, and she has inspired other Ohioans to get involved. “Human trafficking is happening everywhere. It is in every city, town, and neighborhood, and even in your own backyard. People need to open their eyes and hearts to the issue,” she explained. “[You can] start a conversation, spread awareness. Use your talents to help raise money for small grassroots organizations like us that are providing direct services to the victims.”

One final thought from Ms. Kempton: “Education stretches far beyond what is learned in academic books.  Knowing the reality of what happens outside of ‘your bubble’ not only keeps you protected but allows you to do something about it. Don’t just get a textbook education; get a real life education and take action to make changes in the injustices you find.”

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