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Empowering tattoos help rape survivors reclaim their bodies in photography project

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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The reasons why women get certain tattoos etched onto their bodies are rarely skin-deep. Whether the ink in question is a symbol dedicated to feminism or a tribute to a beloved childhood book, tattoos almost always represent something important to their owner.

And for a group of 10 rape survivors living in London, tattoos have become a way of taking back ownership of their bodies and rebuilding confidence following their experiences.

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The women, taking part in the My Body Back photography campaign, each had a phrase representing how they feel about their bodies temporarily inked onto their skin. These messages of strength and resilience, which include "I belong to me" and "Fear no scar", represented their ability to overcome their ordeals and begin to love their bodies again.

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One woman, who had "I choose to feel beautiful, I choose to feel strong" etched onto her back, said in a statement, "It’s all about choice, about who I choose to be – strong – and what I choose to feel – beautiful. [The rapist] thought he took away my choice, but he didn’t."

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Another woman, who chose "My body is broken, but my spirit is not," described the tattoo as showing her how far she had come since being raped.

"I looked at my image and I realised I had come full circle," she said. "It felt like I was marking the end of life events that had defined the way things were for too long. It allowed me to reclaim me and what happened, and have my power given back to me with solidarity."

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The women's tattoos were snapped by renowned photographer Rankin for the My Body Back campaign, to help spread awareness about life after rape or a sexual assault.

Speaking about the campaign, he described how he was "truly moved by this project and humbled to be involved". 

"The sheer strength of these women, after what they have been through, left me speechless," he continued. "The importance of the work My Body Back do can’t really be expressed in words. They are brave in the extreme."

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The campaign was launched in August 2014 by rape survivor Pavan Amara to help women reclaim their bodies following a sexual attack.

The London-based initiative houses the world's first clinic providing long-term health support specifically for rape survivors, and offers vital services including cervical screening, STI testing and a maternity clinic.

Speaking to Stylist.co.uk, Amara describes the phrases chosen by the survivors as "representing feelings of strength and the ability to overcome difficult situations that are so ingrained in women".

"These feelings are a bit like a tattoo, because no one can take your strength away from you," she added. "It's permanent, just like a tattoo."

See all of the tattoos below and click here for further information on the project, or to book into the clinics.

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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