How Do Human Traffickers Mark Their Victims

What Is Branding and Why Do Human Traffickers Do It?

Branding has always been a way owners mark their property so that others know it belongs to them. Ranchers, for example, brand their cattle with their ranch logo to distinguish their livestock from fellow ranchers’ livestock. Sadly, traffickers have adopted this practice and mark other people as their property. Human traffickers mark their victims with a tattoo as a way of sealing their ownership and dominance over the victim.

Types of Trafficking Tattoos Traffickers Mark Their Victims With

“An old-fashioned looking moneybag tattooed on the arm. ‘F— You, Pay Me’ tattooed on a girl’s neck. Large initials tattooed on a girl’s face. The initials ‘ATM’ tattooed near a girl’s crotch. A trafficker’s name tattooed across a girl’s thighs. A bar code tattooed across a girl’s wrist, like an item in a grocery store. The practice is not new. It used to be done by slave owners using brands on slaves to show ownership. Now it’s back in a different form, but for the same horrible purpose.”


Not all trafficking tattoos look the same. Some pimps/traffickers use barcodes, others have their gang sign, a price tag, or their name/initials inked on the body of their victims. Traffickers may coerce or bribe their victims to get the tattoo. The purpose of the branding is to make the victim feel more bound to them, and to signal to other traffickers that this is “one of theirs.” According to,

“Brandings highlight the survivor as a marketable commodity, act as a notification of the controlling service provider to would-be customers, and can serve as a boundary marker related to gang territories. Survivors are often coerced into getting symbolic tattoos to prove loyalty to their captures, or seek such tattoos voluntarily as a byproduct of the abuse they have suffered. Although there are some hyper-localized trends in the style of branding, the principal purpose of the markings is to remain recognizable. It is common for survivors controlled by a single trafficker or group to have the same tattoo. Survivors may bare the brands of various gangs with known human trafficking enterprises such as the Bloods, Folk Nation, Crips, Latin Kings, Hell’s Angels, or similar syndicates.”

Sadly, many victims believe the lies their captors tell them and don’t see that they have intrinsic value that has nothing to do with the sexual acts they perform or manual labor they provide. The tattoos make them feel like they have a place they belong, that someone cares for them and will take care of them, though this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Trafficking Tattoos Can Actually Save the Victim’s Life

While branding another human being is awful, these tattoos could actually aid in the rescue of trafficking victims. Tattoo artists can be on the lookout for these distinct tattoos, along with the other signs of human trafficking, and if they see any of these indicators, they can report them immediately to authorities. Besides the tattoo itself, the biggest red flag tattoo artists should be on the lookout for is that the person getting the tattoo has a very controlling manager with them, keeping close tabs on every little thing they are saying or doing.

In Ezekiel 18:4a, the Lord says, “For everyone belongs to me.” Human trafficking, branding, and this idea that people can become the property of other people directly opposes what Scripture says about us. We belong to God alone and do not have to earn our freedom or worth. This is the truth trafficking victims so desperately need to hear and perpetrators work so hard to keep from them.