Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Former gang members, trafficking victims escape dangerous past with free branding tattoo removal

Professional removing tattoo by laser inside a clinic. (Getty Images)
Professional removing tattoo by laser inside a clinic. (Getty Images)

About one-third of American adults have a tattoo, according to the Pew Center; the most popular are butterflies, dragons, roses and flowers. But for some Americans, there’s no joy in tattoos.

These are gang members and victims of sex trafficking who are forcibly branded by pimps and gang leaders, making it difficult to escape. For those who manage to get out of these dangerous situations, the branding marks provide permanent, embarrassing, and sometimes dangerous reminders of that past.

Dr. Shadi Kouroush is the director of community health at the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Dermatology. She’s also the founder of the Radiance Clinic, where dermatologists provide free tattoo removal and more.

She joins host Robin Young along with Rachel Niemiec, a nurse practitioner, who’s devoted much of her career devoted to child advocacy and work with survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence. She’s also a survivor of sex trafficking.

This article was originally published on

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit