Tat­too­ing over the scars of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - IMPACTJOURNALISM DAY - Writ­ten by Manon Mas­set for the Franco-Rus­sian news­pa­per Le Cour­rier de Russie

Some­where be­tween coun­sel­lor and tat­too artist, 33-year-old Evgue­nia Zakhar trans­forms the scars of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims into works of art in her tat­too stu­dio in Ufa, Rus­sia.

In a small base­ment at the cor­ner of the main road, Evgue­nia is painstak­ingly out­lin­ing flow­ers along old scars. Fac­ing her, arm out­stretched, Di­nara purses her lips in pain and stays silent. Only 20 years old, the young wo­man has been through more than most peo­ple twice her age. Hav­ing suf­fered beat­ings from her fa­ther, and then her hus­band, the young wo­man’s body is cov­ered in traces of this painful past.

She has since left her partner and lives alone with her three-year-old daugh­ter, Amelia. “See­ing my scars,” con­fides Di­nara, “my daugh­ter started to draw the same marks on her arms . . . I feel so ashamed, I can’t bear it.”

Two hours of work later, the scars are com­pletely cov­ered with small del­i­cate flow­ers, tinged with blue. The traces of Di­nara’s in­juries ac­tu­ally make the in­sides of the flow­ers look more re­al­is­tic.

Warm and nat­u­rally optimistic, Evgue­nia has been work­ing as a tat­too artist for 10 years, along­side her partner, Alexeï. “It was the nat­u­ral choice for me to be­come a tat­too artist, be­cause I liked draw­ing but I did not want to curb my cre­ativ­ity at art col­lege,” she ex­plains.

Last Au­gust, Evgue­nia came across the work A Pele da Flor [Flower-like Skin] by Brazil­ian tat­too artist Flavia Car­valho, who cov­ered over the scars of fe­male vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. In­spired, the young Rus­sian de­cided to fol­low her ex­am­ple by of­fer­ing her ser­vices for free via the Rus­sian so­cial net­work, Vkon­takte.

The tat­tooist was sur­prised by how pop­u­lar her of­fer was. “In just one week, I al­ready had 50 re­quests,” she says. Over six months, more than 200 women found them­selves be­neath the ex­pert hands of Evgue­nia, who ded­i­cates ev­ery Mon­day to these tat­toos. She of­fers them for free, cov­er­ing all the costs in­volved.

Tat­too­ing vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence has come to be more than just a job. “On top of help­ing them, I leave my mark on the world. The ma­jor­ity of my clients are younger than I am, and when I am gone, they will con­tinue to bear my tat­toos, which re­minds them that a new start is pos­si­ble,” she ex­plains.

For the women who come to the stu­dio, Evgue­nia is un­mis­tak­ably an artist, but also a coun­sel­lor. “To start with, it was ter­ri­ble to hear all of these sto­ries, but bit by bit I learned how to lis­ten. Now, I even sug­gest that they tell their story one last time – be­fore leav­ing it be­hind them for­ever once the tat­too is fin­ished,” she says.

Of­fer ser­vices

In the fu­ture, Evgue­nia is hop­ing to set out on her mo­tor­bike with her partner on a tour of Rus­sia, so that she can of­fer her ser­vices to abused women from other re­gions.

Evgue­nia’s com­mit­ment is even more sym­bolic in a Rus­sia which has re­cently in­tro­duced a law de­crim­i­nal­is­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Since Fe­bru­ary 2017, some do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases, such as those where blows are cast for the first time and do not af­fect the health of the vic­tim, are con­sid­ered an “ad­min­is­tra­tive” mis­de­meanour rather than a crim­i­nal of­fence. These cases are pe­nalised with a fine be­tween 5,000 and 30,000 rou­bles (¤75-¤452).

The Bill pro­voked strong re­ac­tions among the pub­lic, some fear­ing it might triv­i­alise the phe­nom­e­non. Ac­cord­ing to the Rus­sian min­istry of in­ter­nal af­fairs, ev­ery year 36,000 women are vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse and 12,000 women die as a re­sult of vi­o­lence from their part­ners.

In Rus­sia, 97 per cent of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases are not taken as far as court.

Af­ter be­ing stabbed by her hus­band, Laysan re­ceives a tat­too to cover the scar in Evgue­nia Zakhar’s tat­too stu­dio in Ufa, Rus­sia

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