Branded by tattoos: A lesser-known form of domestic violence

(CBS News) NEW YORK - One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. The abuse takes many forms, including one that's not widely known: Women branded with tattoos.

Latishia Sanchez was 14 years old when she says was attacked by five men, including her boyfriend.

Latishia Sanchez's tattoo has painful memories, but she's finally getting it removed with the help of tattoo removal specialist Dawn Maestas
Latishia Sanchez's tattoo has painful memories, but she's finally getting it removed with the help of tattoo removal specialist Dawn Maestas
CBS News

"I didn't think that I'd get raped, let alone by people I didn't know, let alone my boyfriend allowing it," she said.

During the assault, they tattooed her boyfriend's name across her neck using a needle and pencil lead

Six years later, she can't forget.

"It's hard," Sanchez said. "Right now our mirrors are covered up because I can't look at myself."

Elena Galicia endured a series of violent boyfriends. To placate one, she tattooed his name on her hip.

"He wanted me to show him that I was his, he was mine. And I wanted to please him. I wanted him to be happy," she said.

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Dawn Maestas is a tattoo removal specialist in Albuquerque, N.M. She says ink is often used as a weapon of domestic violence.

"This is control. This is 'you belong to me,'" she said.

"I've had victims who have been drugged and tattooed, who have been physically held down and forced tattooed, and I get angry. I get angry because I know what these tattoos mean."

Dawn Maestas
Dawn Maestas
CBS News

Maestas knows because she had one too, voluntarily putting own abuser's name on the back of her hand. It was one of the first tattoos she removed.

"It was this very strange thing that I never thought about -- that when this tattoo was gone, how lighthearted I seemed to be. There was just this certain, I dunno, an elevation that took place," she said.

Now she donates her time --and her laser -- to help others.

"She's been through something similar and it just gives you that connection," Sanchez said.

With just one session so far, Sanchez has already seen a change.

"I got so happy I started crying and I was looking at it and I was touching it like really? It's like a magic eraser or something," Sanchez said.

"Once it's not visible anymore, that's going to make me feel like a whole new person," Galicia said.

Maestas says what she does is just a finishing touch.

"The tattoos are the one thing i get to take away," she said. "They're the one thing I get to take away."

A small step on the road to survival.



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