March 31, 2016

"Well it's unethical, it's immoral. It's everything I can think of that is a travesty against empathy..."

"... against caring for a human, a child. I mean yea, it's everything that's important to me as an artist in this field," said the tattoo artist about the woman who was arrested for letting her 3 children get tattoos.

The children were all under 13, and the tattoos were not done at a commercial tattoo parlor — is that still the term? tattoo parlor? — but by her brother. The children's father called the cops. He's the mother's ex-husband, and he's fighting for custody of the children.

What were the tattoos of? How big were they? What part of the body was tattooed? Do these questions matter to you? Does religion matter? The tattoos, on the ankle, were: 1. a cross, 2. an infinity symbol with a cross, and 3. a heart with an arrow.

Can children get tattoos? Here, there's a specific statute: "tattoos prohibited for certain persons," a Class A misdemeanor. So the answer is clearly no, unless you want to make an argument for a religious exemption.

Here's a Wikipedia article "Religious perspectives on tattooing."
Christian Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina started tattooing, especially of children, for perceived protection against forced conversion to Islam during the Ottoman occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.... This form of tattooing continued long past its original motivation. Tattooing was performed during springtime or during special religious celebrations such as the Feast of St. Joseph, and consisted mostly of Christian crosses on hands, fingers, forearms, and below the neck and on the chest. In India many Christians tattoos Cross Sign under thumb area. Orthodox Coptic Christians who live in Egypt commonly tattoo themselves with the symbols of Coptic crosses on their right wrists, the history of this custom is similar to that of the Christian Croat tatto[o]s.... 
I have no idea if this woman — her name is Ashley Weir — had any religious notions about what she was doing. Only 2 of the 3 tattoos had a cross. So let me pose a hypothetical. What if 3 children received cross tattoos that the Christian mother believed were needed as protection from forced conversion to Islam?

Here's an illustrated article about old women in Bosnia and Herzegovina who have tattoos they received when they were young. They did not go to commercial tattoo parlors to get these tattoos. They tattooed each other.
At the height of the cult, mothers took to tattooing their children at home, usually before they were ten years old. The tattooing process involves using a crude needle and a special solution made of charcoal, grime, honey, and milk extracted from the bosom of a lactating woman who has already had a male child....
Special power was ascribed to this milk.
Although the cult outlasted the Ottoman oppressors, communist authorities made tattooed women targets of hate campaigns. Threatened and treated like criminals, they would often lose their jobs due to their religious allegiances. Eventually women stopped tattooing their children out of fear and the practice was more or less extinct by the 1950s.

... "There was a paraffin lamp," [one woman remembered], "milk was taken from the woman who feeds a male child and it was mixed with the soot from the lamp. Then she took the needle, dipped it, and tattooed a cross on my hands until the blood ran. My hand was numb so I didn't feel anything. She wrapped it and I held it like that for one day without washing."
What would you do with an American mother who belonged to a cult like this and followed the traditional practice? What would you do with an American mother, a Christian, who heard about this practice and adopted it as part of a custody battle with her ex-husband, a Muslim?

(Again, I don't know the details of the case reported in the news today. I'm just pursuing the ideas using hypotheticals.)

NOTE: This post was corrected to show that the second tattoo, the one with the infinity symbol, also had a cross.

38 comments:

tim in vermont said...

It's good that you came up with hypotheticals to discuss, because 90% of what you hear in a child custody dispute is bullshit.

The Drill SGT said...

FYI Ann,

Two were crosses

One tattoo was of a cross, another of an infinity symbol with a cross and also a heart with an arrow.

Ann Althouse said...

@Drill Sgt

Thanks.

I've corrected the post.

Oso Negro said...

I find it distasteful, but we live in a culture that is perfectly ok with sexually mutilating infant boys and is rapidly talking itself into accommodating sexual mutilation of young girls. In light of that, it is difficult to get excited about a tattoo.

rehajm said...

Involving kids is deplorable but the consequences of drunks getting crap tats for themselves is great entertainment- Tattoo Fixers.

traditionalguy said...

Tattoos are brands made to identify an animal's owner. They are hostile acts per se. When done to oneself they are mutilation/partial sacrificial suicides demonstrating submission to the group or its God for protection or just to say go fuck yourself to unbelievers.

And be sure to get yourself a black leather jacket with your gang's colors to complete the experience.

Tribal happens.

traditionalguy said...

Incidentally, Egyptian Coptic men take the thick and oversized Cross tattoo on an always uncovered and visible spot between the thumb and forefinger specific to say go fuck yourself to Muslim Arab Rulers who conquered their country because the Christians failed to fight a Jihadist invasion army in 600 AD.

Tribal happens. When one tribe wins, another tribe loses. Or we resort to Courts applying Law using lawyers using Jury trials.

Michael said...

As the children of lowlifes I suppose it would have been their duty at a point to get their own tattoos, so probably not anything other than a temporary one.

policraticus said...

I think you can make the case for a religious/1st Ammendment exemption. You would have to have compelling evidence that the parents came from a culture that has a tradition of tattooing the young for religious, magical, or traditional reasons. At minimum the parents would have to show that they were adopting these traditional practices as an act of conscience, that there was sincere belief that the tattoo was more than decorative. In that vein, the tattoo would have to be, itself, traditional, so no Tweety Birds, and done in a traditional way, perhaps as part of a ceremony.

All of this is moot, however, if the couple is divorced and sharing custody of the children. Then there would still have to be agreement between the parents that the tattoos were OK. No agreement, no tattoo. It becomes a matter for Family Court or a Mediator.

FWIW,in NJ it seems to me that any child can be tattooed legally as long as the artist has written consent from the parent to guardian. Which kind of surprised me. How that would play out in a contentious divorce scenario, I do not know.

Phil 3:14 said...

Tattoos are to my kids generation what hats were to my parents.


But at least you can take a fedora off.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

How funny; my husband and I were just discussing the legality of this in Texas, as he was treated to the sight of a girl, about 3, in a McDonalds sporting a crude tattoo of Jesus. I said while it may be be legal with parental consent, it would likely be very hard to find a tattoo artist who wouldn't consider that grossly unethical. So I suppose it's probably legal to tattoo your own kid at home. But goodness, what an idiot thing to do.

Virgil Hilts said...

This is why we do not allow teenagers to get tattoos -- http://i.imgur.com/HOYiqTE.jpg
Protecting them (i) from their own regret and (ii) having to get a "blackout tattoo" later in life to cover it up.

LarsPorsena said...

Mom is so stoned that she needed the tats to tell the kids apart.

PB said...

I just don't get decorating your body with permanent ink with a design that only distorts with age. Why not just temporary decorations? Give kids those press-on tattoos.

EDH said...

"Well it's unethical, it's immoral. It's everything I can think of that is a travesty against empathy... against caring for a human, a child. I mean yea, it's everything that's important to me as an artist in this field," said the tattoo artist about the woman who was arrested for letting her 3 children get tattoos.

Doesn't this story relate in some way to Trump's abortion controversy, and Althouse's take on female agency?

The mother, not the tattoo artist, was charged with the crime reflecting her agency and her decision made affecting the children.

If you follow the mainstream take on abortion, the tattoo artist should have been charged, as with the abortion provider, not the poor mother.

whitney said...

The article says she was drunk and let a registered sex offender tattoo her 3 prepubescent children in unclean conditions. You are over thinking this one.

EDH said...

Althouse: The woman is a victim of her own decision? How does that respect the autonomy and full personhood of the woman? Those who want to ban abortion should take responsibility for what they are really saying about women, that women should be denied a choice they want to make. Unless you think the denial is based on women's inability to think for themselves and ascertain what's right and wrong and define the meaning of life for themselves, then you should hold women responsible for choosing to do something that you think the majority has the power to forbid and you want to forbid. If you think women are incapable of thinking for themselves, say that outright. It would take political courage. If you think women are capable and would be choosing to do something that is properly forbidden, then admit that they deserve punishment. Ah, but that too would take political courage.

Contra: Abortion and tattooing are both activities regulated by the state, so regulation of the provider is less intrusive, especially since both activities have constitutional implications: penumbral privacy and free expression/free exercise.

Ironically, Roe allows calls for the protection of children in the womb who are above a certain age, while tattoo regulation protects children below a certain age.

MadisonMan said...

I know nothing about the facts in this case, but I will observe that the children involved are doing an excellent job at pitting mother against father, as children are wont to do.

Robert Cook said...

I think the preferred term is "tattoo shop." Tattoo artists apparently don't like the term "tattoo parlor." I don't know why.

Ann Althouse said...

"I think the preferred term is "tattoo shop." Tattoo artists apparently don't like the term "tattoo parlor." I don't know why."

I smell sexism.

SeanF said...

policraticus: I think you can make the case for a religious/1st Ammendment exemption. You would have to have compelling evidence that the parents came from a culture that has a tradition of tattooing the young for religious, magical, or traditional reasons.

Unless I'm very much mistaken, current First Amendment jurisprudence is that it is entirely personal - the government cannot decide that your decision was not religious in nature on the basis of whether there exist other people who share your claimed religion and share your decision. If you claim it is your religion, it is, regardless of what anybody else says.

SeanF said...

PB: I just don't get decorating your body with permanent ink with a design that only distorts with age. Why not just temporary decorations? Give kids those press-on tattoos.

When asked about getting a tattoo, I always reply by saying, "Why would I put a bumper sticker on a Lamborghini?" :)

mikee said...

I recall an aphorism that states something about bad cases making bad law.

Examination of this case will reveal, I predict, extreme dislike of each other between the parents. The details of their child rearing are secondary to that issue, and could exist on a spectrum from one refusing to read a bedtime story to the kids that the other likes, to murder of the kids to avoid the other parent getting them.

Prosecute the parent who gave the kids tattoos to the fullest extent of the law, pour encourager les autres.

EDH said...

The other way this story relates to Trump: the mother looks like Rosie O'Donnell.

Theranter said...

More on this special mom:

"The children [son 13, daughters 10 & 9] reported to police that their mother--told them to get the tattoos but not to cry or whine about it when it hurts.

...The brother of the mother's boyfriend is the one who reportedly did the artwork.
We also learned he is a registered sex offender....

...records show she was arrested three times for driving while intoxicated and twice for public intoxication....

She was also charged with resisting arrest and driving with license invalid. The father is now fighting for custody."

I hope he's a decent parent, those kids need one.

Nichevo said...

Ann Althouse said...
"I think the preferred term is "tattoo shop." Tattoo artists apparently don't like the term "tattoo parlor." I don't know why."

I smell sexism.
3/31/16, 9:30 AM


Then you should be grateful, professor! I understand you are glad to smell things these days, even bad smells like a viewpoint that is not explicitly anti-male.

Also you may be grateful that you live in a first world society with first world problems. You're not in a Bosnian village looking at the flies buzzing over Meade's outpoured guts while a troop of bashi-bazouks runs a train on you and, if present, your kids.

The problem is not that your views are so narrow and limited. The problem is that you then try to go out and affect the world on that basis.

Kristian Holvoet said...

Teens can get abortions (without parental consent), but not tatoos (even with parental consent).
Teens can get married (sometimes only with parental consent), but not tatoos (even with parental consent).
Teens can die in combat, but not tatoos.

Similarly, teens can't drink, smoke or in many states rent cars or apartments.

We are so messed up. We are so inconsistent with how we treat kids.

Smilin' Jack said...

It used to be that people went through the pain and expense of getting tattoos in order to proclaim that they were freethinking individuals who refused to conform to society's expectations. Now I can do that just by not getting a tattoo. Progress!

James Longfellow said...

I'm skeptical of the Constitutionality of that statute in the first place. I don't see how it consistent with a parents free exercise of speech. No one doubts that a parent can teach the child about tattoos. No one doubts that a parent has the legal authority to sign up a child for the football team (an activity much more harmful than a tattoo) or to go on a bungy-jumping field trip. So I don't see how such a statute can pass muster. It clearly interferes with both the parent's right to speak (via their child) as well as their association rights with the child.

So I don't see any need to drag religion into it.

n.n said...

Kristian Holvoet:

We are so messed up. We are so inconsistent

Hence PC. Progressive confusion.

I wonder how this specific issue should be resolved. From first principles, the obvious answer is to respect the dignity of the child, which would preclude parents from implementing permanent functional... or is it aesthetic changes? Or should that include semi-permanent changes, too?

tim maguire said...

I wouldn't support a religious exemption, I'd support a cultural exemption. The "tattoos are bad, mkay" attitude is cultural. The "ehh, why not?" attitude is too.

We feel that minors are not able to give consent to a tattoo only because we feel tattoos aren't the sort of thing minors should be getting. Which is hardly the basis for a legitimate criminal prosecution.

JAORE said...


"When asked about getting a tattoo, I always reply by saying, "Why would I put a bumper sticker on a Lamborghini?" :)"


My thought process was always that I don't even put bumper stickers on my (old, beat-up) pickup because I would grow tired of whatever it said. And they are a pain to remove.

Tattoos? Much more personal, much more permanent and with pain. Not I, said the noisy yellow duck.

But forcing them on the kids? Sure, why not?

policraticus said...

Sean F. If you claim it is your religion, it is, regardless of what anybody else says.

But you still have to be following the religion, no? I mean, there is a big difference between the traditional tattoos of the Armenians or Copts and your run of the mill Spring Break tribal armband. How does it work with peyote? Why doesn't that exemption lead to every junkie claiming that his drug of choice is his gateway to the divine?

The more I read about it, the Texas law seems to be unconstitutional. It's funny, about half the states have no age restrictions at all, with parental consent, and half limit it at 14 or 16, with parental consent, a few like Texas prohibit it until 18. Most admit a minor can be tattooed in order to cover up an offensive or obscene tattoo, with parental consent. So, the father in this case does have an opportunity to make his own mark on his children, so to speak.

Jonathan Graehl said...

too young to consent to sex? too young to consent to mutilation. (kindly take this as an anti-mutilation argument)

outlaw child mutilation:

circumcision (all kinds)

tattoos (except temporary)

piercings (except small ones that can heal completely)

haircuts and umbilical cord clipping. (ok, maybe too far)

Harold said...

My opinion on tattoos is that since the origin of "artistic" tattoos was to cover up the slave mark tattoo, that to get a tattoo is to mark yourself as a slave. Why someone would want to mark themselves as someone who was once owned is beyond me.

Apparently the Mother Church (Roman Catholic) doesn't disallow them. But they are prohibited for Jews: Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”

And I have an opinion on mother's who get their kids tattooed. It's not for polite company. Or even the commenters here. If I were the judge, dad gets custody. Now. And she loses visitation rights.

SeanF said...

policraticus: But you still have to be following the religion, no? I mean, there is a big difference between the traditional tattoos of the Armenians or Copts and your run of the mill Spring Break tribal armband. How does it work with peyote? Why doesn't that exemption lead to every junkie claiming that his drug of choice is his gateway to the divine?

SCOTUS ruled that there was no First Amendment exemption for peyote use at all. In response, the federal government (and many state governments) wrote laws allowing peyote use in certain specified situations. It's strictly a legislative exemption, not a constitutional one.

In case you're wondering, the same is true of Hobby Lobby and the PPACA's contraception mandate. The law itself allows them to claim an exemption, the constitution does not. Even in that case, the SCOTUS ruling explicitly denied that they needed in any way to prove it was a religiously-based objection.

takirks said...

This is interesting, in that the Croat tradition is casually mentioned as an aside here, and yet was never brought up or mentioned in the mass media during all the hem-hawing that was performed before and during our intervention in the former Yugoslavia. It also wasn't just the Croats that did this, either--The Serbs did similar things, as well. Both groups had damn good reason to do those things, too, given what often happened to their children under the Ottomans.

People who lack the knowledge of these "minor little ethnographic details" failed to grasp what was at the root of the whole issue with regards to ethnic problems in the former Yugoslavia. The three ethnic groups are all basically the same people, genetically identical, but... There were huge differences, based on culture. The Serbs were the base population, loyal to Eastern Orthodoxy, and the Croats and Muslims were the Quislings who cooperated with the outside empires that used the Balkans as proxy battlegrounds. The reason the Serbs reacted the way they did to idiot Muslim intellectuals who were advocating for a return to their religious roots back in the 1970s, and why that boiled into near-genocide in the '90s?

This anecdote about tattooing religious symbols on children is what you'd call a "clue": The Ottomans spent several centuries using their Quisling proxies (the Bosniak Muslims, most of whom were the city folk most likely to gain from being "race traitors") to strip the poor backwards country Serbs of property, children, and wealth. The children of debtor farmers working as virtual sharecroppers for Bosniak Muslims would wind up sold on the market in Istanbul as Janissaries or sex slaves to fill the harems of the wealthy, and this went on for generations.

You wonder why the Serbs reacted so badly to Izetbegovic talking about a religious resurgence, a return to the roots of Islam, in Bosnia? We here in the US never understood, at a base level, why this whole thing happened. The Bosniak Muslim and the American heard "Religious revival", and interpreted that in a benign, harmless way; the Serb heard that, and he heard someone planning to put him back into shackles, and take his children away to be sex slaves somewhere. Doesn't help that there's still a huge trade in such things, and that the Turks are still buying Slavs from the former territories of the Soviet Union and elsewhere to use as sex workers, either.

This anecdote about the tattooing of kids is something that should have been discussed, back when we were trying to understand the "right thing to do" in the former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, such details and nuance are never brought forward, or mentioned in the media. And, because of that professional malpractice, nobody here in the US really has a damn clue about what we're doing in the foreign policy realm.

Anthony said...

There's no constitutional question here. Banning tattoos on adults would be unconstitutional, but banning them on minors, or putting age limits, or requiring parental consent, our only allowing specifically religious exemptions to the ban are not unconstitutional for other things which are constitutional to regulate. States can have varying laws on this sort of subject. The egg donor should be charged if what she did was illegal in the state she did it in.