Sexual assault survivors showcase tattoos in gallery

Kelley Holland

Survivors of sexual assault are showcasing their strength through tattoos in a new photo gallery.

“Ink Exposed: A Healing Journey,” located in DSU 2041, features images of tattoos that both women and men got after surviving sexual assault or domestic abuse. The tattoos feature uplifting and inspiring quotes as well as other images with meaning, supplemented by descriptions beside them.

One tattoo features an intricate design of a lion wearing a crown. The description written by the survivor says, “I am also a lioness – I am brave and strong but I now see the importance of intertwining love and hope and authentic truth.” They go on to say that they are a domestic violence survivor and they realize they can use their hardships to become empowered.


Another tattoo is a simple quote from the Harry Potter series: “All was well.” The survivor explains in the description that after everything Harry Potter endured, he got his happy ending.

“It wasn’t perfect – there were loses and scars that would never truly heal but the torment of his past no longer controlled his present or future.”

Elizabeth Madariaga, Sexual Assault Services Coordinator at WKU and co-chair of the community Sexual Assault Prevention Month Committee, helped coordinate the gallery with assistance from the community to identify people who were interested in participating.

Madariaga said the gallery gives sexual assault survivors a way to express themselves without necessarily using their voice.

“It’s a great way to express their journey of healing,” Madariaga said in an email. “It’s a visual reminder of their strength and courage.”

Madariaga hopes that those who visit the gallery will leave with better awareness of sexual violence and the process of healing that victim survivors go through.

“I hope that people will create a dialogue and get to talking about sexual violence and take away the stigma and shame that is associated with sexual violence,” Madariaga said.

Londa Stockton, a community educator at Hope Harbor of Bowling Green and co-chair of the Sexual Assault Prevention Month Committee, worked with Madariaga on the idea of the gallery.

Last year, they put on a gallery entitled “What Were You Wearing?” which displayed clothing outfits that resembled what survivors wore when their assault took place. This was an effort to show that sexual assault is not about what a person is wearing.

This year’s gallery shines a light on the healing process.

“Everyone heals differently, but some choose to heal and/or reclaim their body through tattoos and this gallery shows that,” Stockton said in an email.

Stockton said she hopes people will recognize the tremendous strength of survivors. She also acknowledged the many events throughout Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month that are happening on campus, such as Take Back the Night. Attending these events can show survivors that you stand with them. But advocacy goes beyond attending events.

“You can speak up and use your voice when you hear victim blaming comments or someone make a rape joke,” Stockton said. “People can also volunteer at their local rape crisis centers.”

Features reporter Kelley Holland can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected].