When Kempton got pregnant, her drug dealer boyfriend sold her into prostitution. She was kept captive by gangs who traded her back and forth for cash or drugs. She was kept drugged to make her compliant — or keep her awake to “work” for her captors. Her various “owners” did what many such captors do: they branded her with marks of ownership. Some brands are literally burned on; others are tattoos. Kempton had a brand on her neck, and “Property of Salem” tattooed over her crotch. When she finally escaped after six years, she had a hard time getting help. At one house where she knocked on the door, the people inside just laughed at her — and then locked their door. “The sound of the door locking just echoed in my mind,” Kempton said later. “I was locked out of society, I was not seen as worthy of help.” She decided to kill herself by hanging — but the rope snapped. She then made a different decision: she would create a purpose for her life. “Slaves have been branded for centuries,” she said, and she wanted to help other slaves get past what had happened to them.
In 2014 she founded Survivors Ink, which covers brands and tattoos with designs that help them look toward the future, rather than the past. Her own four marks were covered, such as with a flower on her neck. Survivors Ink pays for an artist to cover former slaves’ marks, including one woman in Britain whose own mother carved a brand into her leg — and then sold her. “It’s always amazing to see the look on their face when they no longer have to look at this dehumanising mark of ownership and violence,” Kempton said. “Sometimes I’ll get a call a few days later with someone just bawling their eyes out saying ‘Oh my gosh, I can actually look at my body. It’s my own again’.” She had the guts to tell her story many times in public*, and said it’s a myth that most sex slaves are imported from third-world countries: 80 percent of the sex slaves in the United States, for instance, were born there, she said. She herself was born in Ohio. She lived in Columbus with her grandmother, and was found unconscious, apparently from an accidental drug overdose. She died May 17; she was 35.