A study conducted by Dr. Damon H. Clark, MD, FACS, a general surgeon and assistant professor of clinical surgery at Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, suggests that tattoo removal may contribute to a decrease in crime and trauma. The research indicates that individuals with tattoos associated with gangs or sex work often become targets of violence due to their visible affiliation. However, the study found that removing these tattoos, along with offering volunteer work and science instruction, can help reduce vulnerability to violence, facilitate the formation of a new identity, and improve job prospects.
According to Dr. Clark, people with gang-related tattoos frequently face challenges in finding employment or enlisting in the military, as these organizations prohibit tattoos on exposed body parts such as the hands, neck, and face. The study, which involved 26 participants, reported that 81 percent of them claimed that tattoo removal helped them achieve their goals, such as avoiding gang affiliation and enhancing career opportunities.
Dr. Clark emphasized that violence can come from rival gang members or even from the police, who may react more aggressively when encountering individuals with gang tattoos. He believes that tattoo removal plays a crucial role in protecting individuals, aiding in their healing process, and providing them with new identities and job prospects.
The removal process for professional tattoos typically requires six to eight sessions. However, more than half of former gang members and sex workers acquire their tattoos from amateurs, often while incarcerated. These homemade tattoos are more challenging to remove and may necessitate 15 to 20 sessions.
To address the financial barriers faced by disadvantaged individuals seeking tattoo removal, Dr. Clark’s program offers the service in exchange for community service, with approximately five hours of service required per session. Community service can take various forms, such as attending classes, assisting at a church or nonprofit organization, or participating in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. The program also provides mentorship and counseling for substance use disorders when needed. The tattoo removal procedures are performed by general surgery residents, emergency department residents, and medical students, allowing them to gain practical experience.
Currently, around 300 individuals are undergoing tattoo removal through Dr. Clark’s program. He believes that by treating violence as a medical problem rather than solely a social issue, the country can reduce the significant costs associated with violence on hospitals, productivity, and society as a whole.
Dr. Clark shared the success story of one of the program’s first participants, who began erasing his gang-related tattoos in 2016. This individual went on to complete high school, attend a four-year college, and is now working as a Secret Service agent in Washington, D.C.