A new business in Rotorua is offering local women the chance to have their gang-related tattoos removed for free.
Beautician Michelle Washington has added a tattoo removal service to her business, The Appearance Clinic, which opened on Hinemoa St last month.
"We have got a lot of crummy tats around so I thought this would be a good way to help women out there who wanted to get them removed from visible places.
"Your past shouldn't define who you are today ... You can divorce husbands, you can unfriend people on Facebook, you can avoid talking to people but tattoos are permanent."
Before Washington bought the tattoo removal machine, the only other tattoo removal service in Rotorua was at the body-piercing shop, Skingraft.
Washington said she had met many men and women who had gang tattoos removed for work reasons.
"That stopped them getting jobs where they wanted to go. They needed to be tat free - I was told that even getting a cleaning job was hard."
Washington's tattoo removals require 14 visits, to break down the ink over three to five weeks.
A weaker laser setting is used over time as the pigment comes closer to the surface.
"That's seriously painful without any cream or ice packs. I don't have tats but I've tried the laser on me at different levels and I know just hitting some of my pigmentation just how badly that hurts. So we apply numbing cream before, and dressings after.
"The size of the tattoo determines how long each appointment takes. A tear can take just five minutes each session."
Sometimes after the first few sessions, the tattoo initially looks darker, when the pigment is brought to the surface.
Waiariki Women's Refuge manager Paula Coker said gang tattoos on women were often part of the domestic violence culture or a form of "branding".
"I think it's great women who have got gang tattoos can get them removed free of charge in Rotorua at the moment. It's a huge empowerment for them."
If you are a woman and have a gang tattoo on a frequently visible part of your body you would like removed, contact or visit Michelle Washington at the Appearance Clinic on Hinemoa St.
The clinic is a registered supplier with Work and Income, so people on benefits who have tattoos that limit work opportunities can have them removed if they meet the criteria for a grant.