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Western Wisconsin woman removes tattoos forced on victims of violence for free

Onalaska (WQOW/WXOW) – A Wisconsin woman has found her life’s work in helping survivors of abuse erase scars that harbor painful memories.

For survivors of abuse, the emotional scars can last a lifetime. But for some, they’ve got physical scars in the form of tattoos, forced on them as a way to exert control. An Onalaska woman has found her purpose using high-tech machinery from her day job to help victims of violence, domestic abuse, and human trafficking get a fresh start.

Perfecting skin is all in a day’s work for Stephanie Andresen-Stephens. She owns Brilliant Body Works in Onalaska.

Now she can add tattoo removal to her resume. “When someone like myself chooses to go get a tattoo, we spend time and dedication going and designing it and telling our story… we’re doing it of our own free will.” Others are not. Human traffickers often tag their workers, gangs mark their members, and abusers can claim their victims, all through tattoos. “Often times people feel forced into it or it is very much forced upon them.”

That’s why she started Restorative Ink, a nonprofit removing the scars that harbor painful reminders of a previous life. She helped a woman named Tara erase the mark put on her body by an abusive ex-boyfriend.

Tara said it took about three hours to get the tattoo her boyfriend wanted on her. To take it off, it’ll be 6-12 sessions, and it feels like hot grease splattering all over the skin. But if you ask Tara, she’ll tell you the pain to remove the ink is nothing compared to what she endured at the hands of her abuser.

“The fear takes over you. You’re afraid to talk to people, to tell them what’s going on and you’re afraid you’re never going to get out of that situation,” said Tara.

Stephanie has found her calling erasing painful memories for people looking for a second chance. So far, she’s removed more than two dozen tattoos, and now people in prison are reaching out to her for help.

“One letter I got this gentleman is describing how he has three young children at home, and how he wants to be a better role model for them, and how his ex-gang symbols are going to keep him from getting a reputable job,” Stephanie said.

For Tara, the removal process has just begun, but already each painful stroke brings a glimmer of hope. “It will be amazing to not have that constant reminder of that time in my life where I went through some of the worst things I could possibly imagine.”

Tara said she has to thank Stephanie for her hard work to remove the painful reminder. Now she wants to begin the process of shifting her mindset from victim to survivor. “I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to be able to take my power back. He kind of took power away from me, in the time that we were together in the things that he did to me,” said Tara. “He broke me down… and Stephanie doing this for me is going to build me back up again.”

If you or someone you know is in need of tattoo removal from any of the scenarios above, you can contact Restorative Ink, operating out of Brilliant Bodywork in Onalaska. The phone number is (608) 783-8380.

Savanna Tomei

Savanna is the 6 p.m. producer and co-anchor, and also anchors the 10 p.m. newscast.

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