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Tattoo Recognition in Screening for Victims of Human Trafficking

Fang, Shelley, BS, BSA*; Coverdale, John, MD, MEd; Nguyen, Phuong, PhD; Gordon, Mollie, MD

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: October 2018 - Volume 206 - Issue 10 - p 824–827
doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000881
Brief Report

There is little information on the secondary prevention of human trafficking and how medical professionals can screen for victims. There is a paucity of validated screening tools for use in clinical settings to identify adult trafficked patients, although one for use in pediatric populations exists. Many victims withhold information about their trafficked status. Because traffickers may mark victims, identification of tattoos provides a useful method for screening patients, which complements history taking, especially when victims are unable to disclose that information. We searched existing medical literature, PsycINFO, PubMed, Google, and JSTOR using keywords “human,” “trafficking,” and “tattoos.” Because there is scant literature on this topic, we also searched the gray literature that enabled preliminary identification of several themes used in trafficking tattoos. We also discussed tattoo placement and quality. Tattoo recognition is a critical factor in identifying victims and setting them on a pathway to freedom and recovery.

*School of Medicine, and

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX.

Send reprint requests to Shelley Fang, BS, BSA, Baylor College of Medicine, 1 Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030. E-mail:

The images included in the manuscript were obtained with permission from Survivor's Ink, a nonprofit tattooing organization based in Columbus, OH.

Copyright © 2018 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.