Impact Journalism Day - Solutions to global issues - 2017
Tattoos against domestic violence
Somewhere between psychologist and tattoo artist, 33-year-old Evguenia Zakhar transforms the scars of victims of domestic violence into veritable works of art at her tattoo studio in Ufa, Russia. A job which has become a true mission for the tattoo artist, who helps these women to reclaim their damaged bodies and turn over a new leaf.
Softening the blows
In a small basement at the corner of the main road in Ufa, the capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan in Russia, Evguenia is painstakingly outlining flowers along wisp-like scars. Facing her, her arm stretched out across the work table, Dinara purses her lips in pain and stays silent. Only twenty years old, the young woman has been through hell.
Having suffered beatings from her father her entire life, and then her husband, the young woman's entire body is covered in traces of this painful past. Today, she has left her partner and lives alone with her 3-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."
Evguenia listens attentively before speaking, a lump starting in her throat, "We'll make sure all that becomes just a bad memory." 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.
A "necessary evil"
Warm and naturally optimistic, Evguenia has been working as a tattoo artist for ten years. She works alongside her partner, Alexeï. "It's an exciting job! 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," the young woman explains.
Last August, Evguenia came across the work A Pele da Flor [Flower-like Skin in Portuguese, referring to great sensitivity] 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, at the time, at the extent of her "success". "In just one week, I already had fifty requests!", she exclaims. In six months, more than 200 women found themselves beneath the expert hands of Evguenia, who dedicates every Monday to these somewhat special tattoos. She offers them for free, covering all the costs involved.
With an open ear
Tattooing victims of domestic violence has come to be more than a job for the artist: it is a real mission. "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 remind them that a new start is possible", explains Evguenia.
At the same time, for the women who come to the studio, Evguenia is unmistakably an artist, but also a genuine psychologist. "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.
In the future Evguenia is hoping to set out on her motorbike with her partner for a tour of Russia, so that she can offer her services to abused women from other regions. Victims already come from all over the region to meet me... but I would like to do even more, and why not," she suggested, "encourage tattoo artists in other provinces of Russia, even abroad, to do the same..."
For the moment the project remains a dream: the young woman is on the lookout for potential sponsors.
A woman is beaten to death every forty minutes in Russia
The commitment of this young woman is even more symbolic in a Russia which has recently introduced a law decriminalising domestic violence. Since the 7th February 2017, domestic violence – in cases where blows are cast for the first time and do not affect the health of the victim, is considered as an "administrative" misdemeanour rather than a criminal offence – and penalised with a fine between 5,000 to 30,000 roubles [£67-£398].
The bill provoked strong reactions among the public, some fearing it might trivialize the phenomenon.
According to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, every year 26,000 children are the victims of violence from their parents, 36,000 women are victims of domestic abuse, and 12,000 women die as a result of violence from their partners, which translates as one woman every 40 minutes. In Russia, 97% of domestic violence cases are not taken as far as court. Worldwide, nearly one in every three women is a victim of domestic violence.