Human beings have used markings to denote ownership since before written language. They still use it on livestock, like a brand or a tag on cattle. Unfortunately, they have historically done this to other human beings as well — sometimes it’s in the form of brands or scarring, sometimes it’s in the form of tattoos. Ancient Romans would mark runaway slaves in this fashion; branding was also sometimes used to punish runaway slaves in early American history.

This practice persists today, among human trafficking victims and in the form of tattoos.

In the United States, this is a common practice to mark a trafficker’s “property” — a human being forced into the sex trade against their will, for example. These tattoos can come in all different forms and sizes, such as the name of the trafficker, their initials, a rose or a crown — it depends on the person marking their victims. Sometimes they have crude barcodes with numbers along the bottom to indicate ownership.

More recently, I covered a case where a human trafficking victim was forced to do all sorts of things for her “boyfriend.” After making a profit off of her time and time again, he told her that “it was about time [she] proved [her] loyalty.” In court, she called it a branding. She was not tattoo-free before this, but her others were colorful tattoos illustrating her faith or things she found pretty like a butterfly and a heart. However, when the trafficker forced her to get the new “branding,” it was a few plain black letters right above her vagina — his initials. After the ordeal was over, she had it covered up with another tattoo that had the life and vigor of her other ones.