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Bill would help ex-prostitutes remove marks of former pimps

July 29, 2012 | 10:10 am


A man's name is scrawled across Krystal Lopez's neck in black lettering like that of a centuries-old manuscript.

It is a bitter souvenir for the 18-year-old Pasadena resident, who has worked hard to sever ties with the former pimp who inspired it and the lifestyle it represents. She has started laser treatments to have the tattoo removed at Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit supporting ex-gang members that provides the service for free.

Lopez doesn't fit the Homeboy profile, though. She has never been in a gang, and as a result, she and others like her are deep in the queue.

“There are girls I know who have three different people on them,” Lopez said. “There is a huge waiting list for [removal services]. The priority is always the gang members.”

The wait soon may be pared down. Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) is shepherding through the California Legislature a bill that would expand the pool of people eligible for state-facilitated, federally-funded tattoo removal services to include those tattooed for identification in human trafficking or prostitution.

“Do you want that reminder that somebody treated you as property for the rest of your life?” Portantino asked. “We need to do better.”

An estimated 15,000 to 18,000 people are trafficked into the United States annually, said Kay Buck, executive director at Los Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.

That figure does not capture minors forced into prostitution domestically, she said.

Buck described Los Angeles as a trafficking hub, adding that she and her colleagues have worked on multiple cases that involved tattoos. One woman avoided being seen in public until the coalition could arrange to have her tattoo removed.

“She was so fearful of being jumped by the gang because of the tattoo marking on her face,” Buck said. “She isolated herself for months and couldn't really enjoy the freedom that she now had.”


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Photo: Volunteer doctor Tony Nespole uses a laser machine to begin removal of Margaret Hernandez's four tattoos at Homeboy Industries, where the service is free. Credit: Raul Roa / TCN