Keeping the Tattoo Community Safe

Tattoos require trust.

Getting tattooed is intimate and vulnerable. For this reason, trust and respect is important between clients and artists. Unfortunately, there are people who have been taken advantage of by artists through harassment, abuse, and/or assault. Just like any industry, sexism and sexual harassment affect the tattoo industry.

In this blog post, we will provide tips for a more safe tattoo experience. Most importantly, we will highlight the responsibility of every artist and shop owner to keep clients safe. At the bottom of this page, you can also find resources if you need support.

Accountability creates change.

When survivors tell their stories, they often identify passive bystanders (such as other artists or shop employees) that are complicit when abuse or misconduct is happening. If you work in the tattoo industry, it is your responsibility to actively protect clients. This can be as simple as not laughing at inappropriate or sexualized jokes/comments. This can also mean intervening if a client appears to be uncomfortable and taking reports of abuse/harassment seriously.

Tattoo shop owners and managers should be asking themselves: What is the culture of our shop? What are our values? How do we keep people safe? The answer to these questions can include all the sanitation and hygiene practices already standard in the industry, as well as ideas about consent, diversity, and mutual respect.

Our values at Wolf and Shadow Tattoo Collective.

For transparency, it is important to state our own values as a shop. Our mission statement is “To aid our clients in true self-expression by creating custom art unique to each individual, in a safe and comfortable environment.”

Safety and comfort mean a lot to us. It means we keep a clean and sterile environment that exceeds standards. Also, we make our services accessible and welcoming to first-time clients and seasoned collectors alike. We also give back to our community and celebrate the diversity of our artists and clients. If you ever have any questions or concerns, we are always open to talking with you.

The tattoo industry is always improving, and we believe that it is every artist’s job to promote that progress!

Tips for clients:

You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.

You don’t have to finish a tattoo if you’re feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. You don’t have to remove more clothing than you are comfortable with. You don’t have to entertain an artist if they are flirting with you or harassing you. You don’t have to get a tattoo you aren’t comfortable with.

Your only obligations are to pay the fees you agreed on with the artist (such as a deposit), follow the rules of the shop (such as being sober and respectful), and be of legal age to consent to a tattoo. Beyond that, your role is to communicate with the artist and expect respectful communication in return. Even the most well-known tattoo artist is just a human and you have every right to maintain power over your own decisions. 

Professional artists will communicate with you.

Tattoo artists should inform you of their expectations and should be straightforward if they are unable to meet your request for any reason. They will operate in a sterile environment using appropriate PPE such as gloves. Communication with an artist should be the least painful part of the experience.

Ideally, you will be able to trust your artist and will feel comfortable and confident with following their recommendations throughout the process.

Watch out for these red flags that are not acceptable/unsafe.

  • Flirting
  • Making sexual comments/jokes
  • Making insensitive comments about your identity/body
  • Asking invasive/personal questions
  • Being pushy/degrading
  • Grazing or brushing against sensitive body parts that are not required for that tattoo
  • Dismissing your discomfort
  • Offering to trade discounts/tattoos for sexual favors
  • Offering drugs or alcohol during the session

It is normal for some artists to be working alone, in a private studio, or outside of regular hours — plenty of talented, respectful, reputable artists operate this way. However, if there’s a mixture of the other red flags with these factors, or the artist does not have a good reputation, it may be best to meet with the artist when others will be present. If this is not possible, searching for a more trustworthy artist is recommended. You deserve to have a tattoo session that is comfortable and as safe as possible. 

Tell friends/family where you are.

If you are going to a new shop or working with a new artist, let someone know where you will be and approximately how long you will be there. Text or call your support person if you are feeling uncomfortable or unsafe.

Reach out for help if you need it!

There are many different avenues of support and resources that might be helpful for you if you are struggling after a traumatic event. At Wolf and Shadow Tattoo Collective [fka Diego Tattoo Gallery], we value mental health and hope this list of resources can help someone in need of support. All of these hotlines are available 24/7:

  • San Diego Access and Crisis Line (1-888-724-7240): Support with mental health crises and referral to mental health and/or substance use treatment in San Diego, CA.
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673): Sexual assault survivor support, information, crisis intervention, and referral. An online chat is also available.
  • Center for Community Solutions Hotline (1-888-385-4657): Domestic violence and sexual assault support.
  • Crisis Text Line (“HOME” to 741741): Mental health crisis intervention and support through text messages.
  • Call BlackLine (1-800-604-5841): Support for people, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, through mental health crises and experiences of racial trauma and mistreatment.
  • Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386): Support line for LGBTQ+ and questioning youth/young adults.
  • Trans Lifeline (1-877-565-8860): Provides transgender peer support; run by and for trans people.
  • 211 San Diego (2-1-1): Community resource connection for meeting basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc.), disaster relief, support with utility bills, and other resources in the community.

The tattoo industry is improving, and we can still do better.

We hope these tips and resources can be helpful to you regardless of where you choose to get your next tattoo!

If you’re part of our community of clients and artists at Wolf and Shadow Tattoo Collective [fka Diego Tattoo Gallery], please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions or concerns. We work hard to keep a culture that is welcoming, safe, diverse, and positive. Our artists value each person that walks through our doors and is always interested in contributing to a safer tattoo community.