Life Experiences Represented by Tattoos and Scars on Body Maps of Male Adolescents in Conflict with the Law




adolescents, conflict with the law, body mapping, gangs, scars, tattoos, visual methods


This qualitative study aimed at exploring the life experiences represented by tattoos and scars of adolescent males in conflict with the law. The adolescent participants were detained in restrictive placement at what was then called Special Youth Centres. A case study design guided the research, which was conducted in 2010/2011. Fifteen unstructured interviews were conducted with five participants. Body maps were used as visual data-collection strategy. Three themes were identified from the transcripts. First, the contextual factors that characterised the living situations of participants. Second, narratives of pain and suffering were linked to the scars indicated on body maps. Most scars could be linked to domestic violence, physical abuse, harsh parenting practices, and gang involvement. The third theme outlined the link between tattoos and gangs. Participants expressed the negative consequences of such tattoos and described how emotions triggered them to get new tattoos. Two conclusions can be drawn: families should offer a safe haven to children, but often do not; while gangs offer protection, identity and access to commodities, with negative short- and long-term consequences.


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Author Biographies

Marinda Pienaar

Marinda Pienaar is an occupational therapist. 

Mariette van der Merwe, North-West University

Professor Mariette van der Merwe is a researcher in Social Work at Compres, Faculty of Health Sciences, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa.


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How to Cite

Pienaar, Marinda, and Mariette van der Merwe. 2023. “Life Experiences Represented by Tattoos and Scars on Body Maps of Male Adolescents in Conflict With the Law”. Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development 35 (3):18 pages.



Received 2022-09-08
Accepted 2023-07-03
Published 2023-09-06