How Tattoos Have Helped People Deal With Trauma From Sexual Assault

Individuals found that getting tattoos offered them healing.

Many people think of tattoos as something you might get as a teenager and maybe grow up to regret. But for some, marking your body with ink can actually be incredibly therapeutic and help to release pain.

How People Have Been Finding Healing Through Tattoos

People have gotten tattoos as a way of coping with medical conditions, like breast cancer, or incidents such as sexual assault.

A small study published in the journal Deviant Behavior found that getting a tattoo can be a healing experience for those who have experienced a sexual assault. The researchers spoke to sexual assault survivors and found that many used tattoos as non-traditional methods of healing and a way to regain control of their bodies.

One of the study authors, the University of Texas in Arlington doctoral student December Maxwell, is a sexual assault survivor herself. "A sexual assault is an infringement on your body," Maxwell said in an interview with CNN, explaining that when someone who experienced sexual assault gets a tattoo, they can "shed the identity as a victim and move toward being a survivor."

The Tattoo Inspiration

Sexual assault is more common than you might think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50% of women and almost 33% of men have experienced sexual violence. However, these statistics may be underreported, because those who have been affected may feel threatened or that others will offer help—so they stay quiet.

However, some individuals do choose to speak up about what has happened to them. Lady Gaga spoke out in 2016 about being sexually assaulted as a teenager. The Oscar winner was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the experience and chose a geometric rose as her healing ink.

Tattoos Shared by Lady Gaga’s Fans

When Lady Gaga started a trend with her tattoo, many of her fans got a similar one to help them heal from their own assaults. Below are photos of a few of their tattoos.


"#yeahithurt...but not as much as what I had to go through, which it stands for."


"I knew I wanted this design forever as soon as I saw it on @ladygaga. The beautiful growth that comes from the flame reminded me of how I have seen so many strive for normalcy after their trauma and refuse to allow fear to rule their lives. We are survivors, but we are also more than our survivorship. We are warriors."


"This tattoo signifies me losing a piece of myself but also a reminder that 'you will always survive if the flame inside burns brighter than the fire around you'."


"This is not just a tattoo. It's part of a movement. Wearing this on my body means you are safe to come and talk to me. Or anyone else wearing it. YOU ARE NOT ALONE."


"This tattoo is a reminder of how far I have come, how strong I am, how I am still whole. "

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  1. Maxwell D, Thomas J, Thomas SA. Cathartic ink: a qualitative examination of tattoo motivations for survivors of sexual trauma. Deviant Behav. 2020;41(3):348-365. doi:10.1080/01639625.2019.1565524

  2. CNN Health. Tattoo therapy: How ink helps sexual assault survivors heal.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Violence prevention fast facts.

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