Methods/Design: The study was a grounded-theory qualitative investigation using semi-structured interviews with survivors of sexual trauma (N=10) age 18 and older with at least one tattoo, and tattoo artists (N=7) that were 18 years or older and had been tattooing for at least one year. Participants were recruited via snowball sampling on social media. Interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed and analyzed using Atlas.ti software via speculative inquiry to code for common themes.
Results: Key themes found were: tattoo acts as a personal narrative, provides cathartic release, allows the survivor to feel in control, has a therapeutic role, and acts as anti-normative expression. Additionally, tattoo allows survivors to reclaim definitions of beauty from traditionally patriarchal socially-imposed beauty standards.
Conclusion and Implications: Findings indicate that tattoo acts as a therapeutic process for survivors of sexual trauma and as a visual representation of a personal narrative. Tattoo also provides survivors of sexual trauma with bodily reclamation and cathartic release. Moreover, these findings illustrate an approach wherein clinicians can use tattoos as a tool of inquiry to explore an individual’s life course, their culture, the meanings of symbols to them, and ultimately their trauma history, akin to narrative therapy. Knowledge of the therapeutic value of tattoos can shift stigma and allow clinicians to be more inclusive. Limitations include small sample size and lack of participant diversity. Further research should be mixed-methods in approach to include larger statistical scales integrated with personal narrative, with a larger, more diverse population in order to draw larger conclusions about motivations of and the therapeutic value of tattoo attainment.