JANE is 18 years old. She makes her way to a well-known studio for her first tattoo, a small sternum piece.

She notices her anxiety as she walks into the room full of artists and clients. She’s asked to lie down on the cold, cling-film-wrapped table and take her top off. As the artist begins to place the stencil, he asks her to take off her bra. “Are you single?” he asks. She wonders if this is normal.

As the appointment progresses and the needle jabs into her skin 200 times per second, the artist says “I can tell you take good care of yourself” as he leans on her breasts. She feels uncomfortable, but she doesn’t say anything because she’s afraid it will mess up the tattoo.

After it’s finished and she’s making her way home, she sees a notification pop up on her Instagram – it’s a direct message from the 42-year-old tattoo artist. She feels sick to her stomach as she reads his message: “I was very distracted trying to finish your piece today, you’re very beautiful. Would you like to come round to my house for a play date? Xx”.

This is one woman’s instance of the power abuses that are all too common in the tattoo industry – with questions over its lack of regulation in the spotlight once again.

There is an air of toxic masculinity in many studios; brushes against the body, lingering stares and unprofessional comments. Predators often use their positions of power to prey on vulnerable young women.

Some “famous” artists have an unhealthy attitude of possession; they think because they’re putting their art on your body, then they own that tattoo, they have a say in it and they possess that part of your body. In this industry, women’s bodies aren’t respected in the same way those of our male counterparts are.

In June 2022, an Instagram account was made to create a safe space for women and former staff to talk freely about their experiences with an unnamed Edinburgh tattoo artist and studio owner.

There had been whispers around the city for years, rumours had spread about his inappropriate behaviour around his young clients, but they were nothing more than rumours.

That is until 63 women and former employees, some of them as young as 15, came forward with stories of gross misconduct.

The allegations are shocking: offering clients free tattoos in exchange for sex, berating his staff, offering prescription drugs to calm down nervous clients, transphobic comments, fat-shaming – the list goes on.

A former employee of the studio told the Sunday National: “When I worked on reception, he would instruct me to only book him clients who were young females.

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“One time he said to a very young girl who was getting a sternum tattoo from him, when she was in pain … he asked her if she wanted some more ‘pussy juice, I mean lube, I mean Vaseline’.

“I felt sick, and she looked at me so uncomfortable, he intimidated and said uncomfortable things to young women all the time.”

Another former employee added: “He was in his late-30s at this point, every single customer I had who was 18 or had just turned 18 he’d say ‘she was cute’. .

“He would come around and touch their legs, asking about the colour or the stencil and I’d just think ‘this is my tattoo, why are you doing this?’

“The only reason his business survived is because he was charging £10 per piercing, he always had lots of little girls who would come around and get their piercings done, but he never respected their privacy.

“In studios we have privacy walls to set up if you’re tattooing or piercing an intimate area, but he would come around and look anyway.”

Just last week, more scandal surrounding the Scottish tattoo industry emerged as a tattoo artist working for Rock ‘n’ Roll, a chain of studios across Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, came out on Instagram with alleged evidence against her employer.

Kali’s stories appeared to show shocking images; hundreds of rubbish bags stuffed with clinical waste hadn’t been disposed of, and instead were thrown into a storage cupboard next to her workstation and left until flies swarmed the area.

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Kali alleged that after leaving the studio, her former employer failed to pay her around £1000 in wages. She describes him as “abusive” and posted screenshots of his messages bragging about how he has friends in Poland who can kill people and making other violent threats.

Kali said: “He would choose one person from the studio to have dinner with him, so people started to have a sick competition wondering ‘why didn’t he choose me?’

“You don’t realise straight away that it’s manipulation, you just wonder why other artists doing the same job are getting more money; but after you see it in different people, unless you wake up and break from the toxic cycle, you see the truth.

“Some people are in denial so even if this stuff happens to them, they will still defend the abuser, because that’s how abuse works.

“He would threaten to go to people’s houses and set their offices on fire, this is not the type of person that should be owning a business because it’s scary.

“I feel like power, money and these things blind people, especially men because they like power and they like to be in control.

“That’s what it all is; control, manipulation, being on top of people and feeling superior.”

Responding to the claims, a spokesperson for Rock ‘n’ Roll Tattoo said to STV News that it takes hygiene “very seriously” and that the images shared were taken by management over several years dating back to 2019 to “share with environmental health to assist with collection”.

Glasgow City council confirmed that that the owner has a waste disposal contract in place and the storage was clear on a visit by Environmental Health last week.

A spokesperson for the studio said: “Across all of our six award-winning studios throughout the UK, we take hygiene very seriously and our customers’ and staff’s welfare is of the most importance to us.

“We are deeply saddened that a former employee, following our parting of ways, has come forward with a number of images, which were in fact taken by management over a period of years in a bid to keep standards high and to share with environmental health to assist with collection.”

There is little regulation in the tattoo industry; there are no background checks, there is no HR department, all you need to tattoo is a licence. Accountability therefore must come from within the industry, but often, it doesn’t. More regulation may not be an easy answer, though.

An Edinburgh-based piercer said: “I would absolutely say there is a power imbalance in the industry.

“There are a handful [of] particularly disgraceful men, both artists and shop owners, that seem to tip the scales using their positions to take advantage of women, in particular young women.”

She added: “Do I think the industry should be more regulated? That’s a tough question for me. Yes and no.

“I think the only people this will end up affecting is us, not these men.”