Health News

Mar 22, 2012 12:21 AM by Jacqui Heinrich

Tattoos for kids in La Junta, CO

"She needs to pay for this," Michelle Milenski says, fighting back tears. She looks at her son Brandon, a high school sophomore, as he turns away. When Brandon asked Milenski if he could get a tattoo, she said no; he was only fifteen. Brandon paid no attention to his mother's wishes.

"She wouldn't let me get a tattoo so I went and got one. That lady did it for me," Brandon says, his arms crossed with an apathetic expression on his face. The lady he speaks of is Viola Sanchez, a La Junta woman known by local kids for her no-questions-asked tattoos. She has allegedly inked several minors in her trailer park home.

Milenski discovered the 4-inch cross on her son's back one afternoon when Brandon was walking around shirtless, unsuspecting of his mother's presence. She turned to Facebook to find out who had done the deed, quickly learning that her son wasn't the only kid Sanchez had allegedly inked. "She gave one lady's daughter 7 tattoos before she was old enough," Milenski laments. We found the mother she was referring to; Kristi Vanhook confirmed that her 16-year-old had gotten 7 tattoos and some piercings from Sanchez without her knowledge or consent.

The situation has left parents like Mikenski and Vanhook feeling helpless; because these kids say they received their tattoos at Sanchez's mobile home, they worry about the health risks their kids now face after getting inked in an unapproved facility. The Colorado Department of Public Health conducts annual hygiene checks on all licensed facilities and requires body artists to pass a test each year before work. Trained officials analyze things like handwashing sinks, disposable needles, single-use inks, and sanitization methods...checks that wouldn't be performed at an illegal operation in a mobile home.

Operations like the one Sanchez is allegedly running don't only pose serious health risks-- among them bloodborne diseases like HIV, hepatitis, and staphylococcus-- but they're also illegal. "The Board of Health rules require it to be a licensed, approved facility," Tom Gonzales of the El Paso County Health Department tells News 5. State statute 25-4-2103 says 'No body artist shall perform a body art procedure upon a minor unless the body artist has received express consent from the minor's parent or guardian'.

News 5 approached Viola Sanchez numerous times in an effort to get her side of the story; she has declined to comment. As a result of this report the Otero County Health Department and local law enforcement agencies are investigating this case, but even an investigation can't solve Milenski's worries now. "I don't know if she uses clean needles. And that's scary when you're thinking about all the diseases going on out there, that my son could get hepatitis, AIDS, anything...it scares me. I will worry about his health for a long time."

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