According to the U.S. Department of State, approximately 6.3 million people unwillingly participated in forced commercial sexual exploitation at any given time in the United States in 2021. This issue is present everywhere, but Illinois specifically is a hotspot for sex trafficking and human trafficking in general.
Ink180 is a prominent business in the Oswegoland community that helps people recover from traumatic experiences, promotes community activism, and increases awareness about the dangers of sex trafficking, both locally and nationally.
One way that Ink180 helps the community is by providing completely free tattoo cover ups and removals for former gang members and survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and self-harm survivors.
“It’s really about taking away the constant visual reminders of the past. I’m a big believer in second chances – I’ve had many of them in my life – and it’s hard to start fresh and start a new life when you’re wearing the evidence of your old life,” said Chris Baker, founder of Ink180 and longtime tattoo artist.
Ink180 helps not only the community, but people from all over the world.
“We get people from as far away as New Zealand come in for tattoo removals, and Mexico, Canada. We’ve done over 10,000 of them for free in the last 12 years,” explained Baker.
Baker also reaches outside of Oswegoland himself by speaking at Church events and schools.
“I do a lot of stuff to educate kids so they don’t fall into things like sex trafficking. I go and speak in prisons and jails and do tattoo removals [there]. [On] November 4th, I’m actually going to Nepal for a week to do sex trafficking tattoo removals over in Nepal,” said Baker.
On top of speaking at events and providing his services in other countries, Baker has collaborated with government organizations to help catch and convict sex traffickers.
“We’re a national provider for the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the US Attorney’s Office. We go out to the Superbowl, to the city, and we help them look for kids that are missing, being trafficked,” Baker explained.
One way in which Baker and the staff at Ink180 give back to the Oswego community specifically is by advocating for greater awareness at schools in the area.
“They come to our TALK training and speak,” said Chante Morrick, one of the BIONIC advisors. Baker attends the TALK programs to encourage students to speak out when they see something that doesn’t seem right. “They do a lot of their stuff on See something, say something,” Morrick added.
In addition to these words of advice, Baker also educates students on safe internet habits. As teenagers are more active online than ever before, he emphasizes the importance of making smart choices that will keep them safe in the long run.
“I think that it is really important – what he’s doing – and I think it is really valuable that we have something like that in Oswego,” senior Natalie Braun said.
Ink180 has done great work in Oswego and across the world for 12 years and even still are trying to expand their business in order to spread awareness and to help as many people as possible.
“We’re always looking for ways to expand what we do – we don’t really put parameters on it… We don’t make people qualify or fit into some box, we’re just here to help. We’re always looking for tattoo artists across the country to build this into a network, because this stuff is needed everywhere, so we’re always trying to do that,” said Baker.