It’s estimated that up to 300,000 people in the U.S. are at risk of being the victims of sex trafficking, many of whom get “branded” with tattoos that remain constant reminders of their traumatic experience even after they’re rescued. In 2022, the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS) began offering survivors of sex trafficking laser tattoo removal treatments provided by qualified providers as a pro bono service.
Help for Sex Trafficking Survivors
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Kristel Polder is among the network of physicians who perform laser tattoo removal through the New Beginnings program. The program includes physicians nationwide, but its services are particularly helpful in Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where there are higher rates of human trafficking. Traffickers brand victims with tattoos that signify ownership and that they’re for sale.
According to the ASLMS, trafficking survivors who have either completed or are actively participating in a rehabilitation program or recovery support group affiliated with the National Trafficking Sheltered Alliance can take advantage of the laser tattoo removal program. They must provide documentation from their case manager stating they are a sex trafficking survivor at a safe and appropriate stage of recovery to undergo tattoo removal.
In this question-and-answer interview, Dr. Polder explains how she became involved with New Beginnings and why offering this service is so important to her as a physician.
How did you first hear about the New Beginnings Laser Tattoo Removal program?
I first heard about it through one of my mentors, Dr. Paul Friedman (the current president of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery). Dr. Friedman, who practices in Houston, said the program was having an incredible impact in Houston, and he invited me to join the program as a provider.
What influenced your decision to become a provider?
I wanted to make a difference in the lives of women (and men) in the Dallas area. I had read about a 15-year-old girl who was abducted during a Dallas Mavericks game, which became a national news story. She was drugged and found 10 days later in an Oklahoma City hotel room. I cannot fathom the horrible things she experienced. After I asked more questions regarding trafficking in general, I learned that this happens every day—every hour of the day—to children all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex area.
It’s a daunting problem. It’s scary and so dangerous. It affects all socioeconomic classes, all races and spans both girls and boys. I wanted to do my small part to help these individuals heal and slowly take back their lives.
“Laser tattoo removal of this shameful reminder of being branded that I live with every day has been emancipating. I’m not sure people realize how imprisoning a brand can be—it chains a piece of you to the darkness forever.”
Can you describe a situation or patient who you’ve treated?
I recently treated a young woman in her early 30s who was trafficked about 10 years ago. She was drugged and then became an addict. She was later arrested for drug possession. She was trafficked by her boyfriend, something that happens frequently. A trusted person, usually a significant other, lures them under the false pretense of love and a relationship. I was able to build rapport and trust after a few treatments, and she opened up and discussed something that was obviously traumatic and painful.
How many laser treatments are needed to remove tattoos?
Fading tattoos requires an average of 6 to 10 treatments. Whether the tattoo was created by an amateur or professional and the number of colors involved are factors that influence how many treatments are needed. The more complicated a tattoo is, the more treatments are needed to clear the different colors. Different laser wavelengths treat different colors.
Black is typically easier to fade than green or blue. Orange and red are the most difficult to treat.
What happens during a laser tattoo removal treatment?
For small tattoos, we first numb the area with a local anesthetic. If the tattoo covers a larger surface area, we use a strong topical cream to numb the area, using saran wrap occlusion for better penetration. We usually schedule treatments about 4 to 6 weeks apart. Multiple treatment sessions are always needed, and we provide patients with post-treatment instructions.
If you’re interested in learning more about the New Beginnings program or laser tattoo removal, contact Dallas Center for Dermatology & Aesthetics using the online form or by calling us at (214) 631-7546.