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Canton medical spa removes tattoos forced onto human trafficking survivors by abusers

Posted at 1:43 PM, Feb 02, 2023

CANTON, Ohio — Permanent tattoo ink from abusers is scarring trafficking victims in Northeast Ohio often in secret.

“It is a very traumatic experience that they’ve gone through. This is just a small part of it,” said Matt Philips, VP of Joie de Vivre Medical Spa (JDV Spa). “When it comes to your door whether it’s at home or work or discussion with friends, it opens your eyes to how real it is.”

News 5 recently reported that every FBI field office across the nation has open human trafficking investigations right now, including Ohio. Moreover, according to the state’s Human Trafficking Initiative, women were the most commonly identified human trafficking victims reported by law enforcement in 2021.

“There’s a lot of different ways that this is happening. It can be sneaky. You would never know walking down the street who this has happened to,” said Theresa Phillips, President of JDV Med Spa.

It was just five years ago when the Phillipses faced reality with a phone call from a local case worker at the couple’s medical spa in Canton. It was a call for help, asking if their team could remove a trafficker's tattoo from a victim.

“This was a local office that called us,” Philips said. “It was a very real situation.”

The spa’s medical director, Dr. James Franz, DO, led the ultimate private laser removal session for that victim.

“[This is about] treating someone almost emotionally with a laser removing this scar that they have…you kind of see a little bit of their anxiety, a little bit of that just unfold and release as we’re getting that tattoo off — it’s pretty special,” he said.

In the last five years, JDV Spahas treated a handful of human trafficking and abused victims. Some laser treatments have also been popular among cancer survivors. However, the cost and access to medical spa treatments remain obstacles for many people seeking scar and tattoo removal.

“A lot of these lasers are in big cities. You know Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburg, you know you have to go pretty far,” Franz said.

However, the Phillipses say their hope is to expand their services and free those in need without any burdens.

“We can’t all just ignore that and keep living our lives. We have the ability to help in a small way and we’re glad to do that,” said Matt Philips said.

The JDV Spa is working on a fundraiser with Operation Underground Railroad, which is a nationwide non-profit helping survivors of human trafficking through intervention and aftercare. The spa plans to match all donations raised through Feb. 12. Donations will be accepted via the Joie De Vivre Business Venmo account @jdvmedspa.

The spa is also opening a Cuyahoga Falls location this spring.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.