Allegations of sexual assault and abuse in Victoria tattoo shops are “deeply horrifying, but sadly not surprising,” says Black Cat Tattoo owner Caitlin Webb.
In an email, Webb said sexual assault and misconduct have been occurring in the tattoo community for a long time.
“With that said, there are many artists in the community, locally and abroad, who are actively working with one another and with clients to create safe spaces to be tattooed in, and to stop the possibility of abuse,” she said.
Webb’s response follows a number of allegations earlier this month against tattoo artists across the country. At least two artists from Victoria tattoo shops were named – Carne Tattoo and Painted Lotus Studios. Both businesses released statements and said the named artists were no longer employed.
Carissa Ropponen, communications manager for the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, said the allegations illustrate how deeply sexual assault is rooted in power dynamics.
“These tattooists are in a position of power in their communities … they are in a position of trust. Someone going to have a tattoo done, it’s an intimate thing. It’s a personal experience and the tattoo artists who have been [allegedly] sexually assaulting folks, have violated that trust in a big way,” she said.
In an Instagram post responding to the allegations, Carne Tattoo said the company did not terminate an employee accused of sexual assault when the first allegation was made in March, 2019. The shop released the employee after that allegation and others were made public on social media more than a year later.
“In retrospect, we should have terminated this employee immediately, as this disgusting behaviour has no home in our industry or our shop and our failure to immediately act upheld a system that protects aggressors and continues the cycle of victimization.”
Ropponen echoed that sentiment, noting that it is everyone’s responsibility to end sexualized violence. It’s not surprising some survivors choose to share their experiences on social media, she added.
“One of the big barriers that so many survivors face is being disbelieved, being blamed and shamed,” Ropponen said.
“We see these online communities being able to provide support and create a community of support for one another.”
All of the artists employed at Webb’s Fernwood tattoo shop are women. She said there is a zero tolerance policy for misconduct.
“Every client is a new experience and we want to make sure each experience is as safe and comfortable as possible,” she said, adding that existing policies and protocols have been amped up in light of the allegations.
“We are glad those survivors came forward. It is an incredibly brave and hard thing to do, and will hopefully help others make the decision to come forward.”
On July 10 VicPD stated that it was aware of the social media reports and its Special Victims Unit would be investigating any incidents reported to police.
To speak to a detective, call the VicPD non-emergency line at 250-995-7654.
For survivors seeking advice or supports such as counselling, medical care, information or referrals, call the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre at 250-383-3232 or email them at email@example.com.
The Men’s Trauma Centre can be reached at 250-381-6367 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.