Last week a body modification artist known as ‘Dr Evil’ was jailed for three years and four months for carrying out consensual ear and nipple removals and splitting a willing customer’s tongue.
The story of Brendan McCarthy, the owner of Dr Evil’s Body Modification Emporium in Bushbury, was widely publicised as the father-of-one pleaded guilty to three counts of grievous bodily harm (GBH) for his craft.
But, as his family adjust to the devastating news, over 23,000 people have called for the release of this ‘pillar of the alternative community’ citing his imprisonment bears ‘no benefit to the public’.
Screams from #DrEvil as he is led away after being sentenced to 40 months in prison, and tears from supporters in the public gallery
— Lisa Dowd Sky News (@LisaSkyNews) March 21, 2019
The tattoo artist leading the charge, Ashton Wolfe, told UNILAD he believes the petition has proved so popular because the body modification community ‘feels attacked’ by McCarthy’s imprisonment, adding the 50-year-old had been ‘made an example’ of’ by the courts.
Wolfe, who owns Society Thirteen Tattoo Studio in Nottingham, said:
All this sentence has done is show how ill-informed the courts are about our work, displayed prejudice by prosecuting somebody for an offence the ‘victims’ said they did not want to prosecute, and left Brendan’s wife to fend for herself with a young child who now won’t see their father for three years of their very early life.
When Judge Amjad Nawaz handed down his sentence at Wolverhampton Crown Court on March 21, he cited McCarthy’s lack of ‘qualifications for surgical procedures’, and said there’s ‘a need for deterrent’.
But Wolfe, 28, told UNILAD the answer is not to imprison a registered tattooist and body piercer who only conducted consensual procedures which the body mod community see as ‘standard practices’.
Following his arrest in December 2015, McCarthy had championed the ‘personal autonomy’ of his clients and argued their consent was a lawful defence against the charges of GBH laid against him.
But three Court of Appeal judges were not convinced and said the procedures were incomparable to tattoos and piercings.
I'm DISGUSTED that 'Dr Evil' has been jailed.
Not one single complaint from ANY of his clients (Which I was one) and yet @WolvesCouncil takes it upon themselves to be the moral guardian of what someone is allowed to do to their bodies.
— Richard Harris (@cigarboyrick82) March 21, 2019
They also noted McCarthy had divided a customer’s tongue ‘to produce an effect similar to that enjoyed by reptiles’.
He notes that while the observation is technically correct, the ‘derogatory nature of this comment is unacceptable’ and shows a lack of understanding of the body modification community.
The procedures, he added, might seem ‘barbaric’ to someone with no prior knowledge of the history and art form associated with body mods. But to those who opt into these aesthetics, they’re part and parcel of their own freedom of expression.
Wolfe (pictured) adds:
This is not an isolated case of somebody cutting people’s bodies up, but an artist performing well in their chosen line of work on fully consenting clients.
These widespread processes have been reported as though they are some newfangled way to deform yourself. In reality, tongue splitting has been around for years and is very popular.
Without information being presented on the community and the procedures carried out in court, I do not feel any conclusion reached can be fair.
Meanwhile, McCarthy’s imprisonment has sent shock waves through the system of trained tattoo artists and piercing professionals, as well as body modification experts, alike.
It's infuriating – so unjust in such a fucking stupid and petty way that’s caused immense damage. He has a *newborn son* and he's being put into prison for three years for doing things that everyone involved freely consented to.
— Sam Bowman (@s8mb) March 22, 2019
Wolfe muses the new precedent leaves ‘every tattooist and body piercer open to multiple lawsuits for GBH’ if aesthetic procedures such as tongue splitting and ear modification are classified as illegal.
He wonders if those offering consensual scarification, the practice of using a scalpel to break skin and leave scars, will also be hunted down if it is also classed as illegal.
Critics of the judgement feel it is an example of the ‘othering’ of alternative sub-cultures. One signatory of the petition said the judiciary should ‘stop telling us what we can and can’t do’.
Others are concerned the sentencing will drive professionals and consenting adults underground.
Wolfe, when asked about the discrimination experienced by the body modification community, said:
I feel that extreme body modifications do still lead to judgement from the mainstream, but this should not affect the way an individual is treated by the court.
Yet, some societal myths about body modifications persist so far as to allow the government to interfere in people’s body autonomy.
So. Brendan McCarthy has been jailed for over 3 years for doing consented body modifications. I can’t tell you how pissed off and upset I am for both him and his family, as well as the body modification industry. It’s going to be driven underground with shit people doing it 🤷🏻♀️
— a green bean (@_crucifucks) March 21, 2019
While the art of tattooing becomes increasingly mainstream, other less common piercing and body modifications are sometimes still equated to self-mutilation and body dysmorphic disorders.
Body mods can be a sign of mental illness, in so much as any other form of expression can be a sign of mental illness, and despite a number of studies actively seeking out a connection between the two, no conclusive correlations have been found.
Indeed, whereas tattooing and piercing used to be associated with high-risk groups engaged in drug and alcohol use, violence, or self-harm, and suicide ideation, this is not the case today, researchers from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Adolescence say.
While advising careful psychosocial assessments with teenagers to help decrease high-risk behaviors, the first report of its kind released in 2017 concluded body modification is not the same as non-suicidal self-injury, which is conversely often impulsive or compulsive and associated with mental health disorders.
Still, West Midlands Police said McCarthy conducted the procedures without knowing his clients’ psychiatric backgrounds.
In this complex case, it seems McCarthy who told the BBC he sees no wrongdoing in his actions, has pushed his ‘well-regarded’ craft beyond the boundaries of regulation with consenting participants, and has fallen foul of a lack of effective, centralised regulatory body with historic ‘grey areas’ between surgery and body modification.
A famous body modifier is being jailed and has been forced to shut down his business simply for doing what he has always done, just because people fail to understand and look down on his lifestyle, despite his clients fully consenting to the work
— Emma Sinclair (@emmmmmajayyy) March 27, 2019
After receiving a complaint, the City of Wolverhampton Council’s environmental health team, investigated McCarthy and said its issue was with his lack of licence to carry out the modification procedures and the need for more regulation in the industry which delivers results ‘akin to cosmetic surgery’.
Councillor Steve Evans, cabinet member for city environment, said the council desires the introduction of ‘national regulation’ designed ‘to protect members of the public against the risks of extreme body modification’.
Notably, officers also discovered out-of-date pre-injection swabs, anaesthetic gel, stitching thread and needles.
Whilst I’m sure Mr McCarthy considers himself an artist, providing a service removing and cutting people’s body parts without adequate medical training from unsuitable retail premises presents a risk to the public that we are not prepared to accept.
Rather than imprisonment, Wolfe argues, legislation reform would have instead been the best way forward.
Currently there is no national governing body for tattooing, piercing or body mods and the regulations are interpreted differently by every local authority, something I would like to see change in the future to discontinue to diversity of regulation across the country and have our practices managed correctly, fairly and generically by a single body with knowledge and experience of the industry.
I've had extreme body modifications done by Brendan McCarthy aka 'Dr.Evil' and I won't hear a bad word said against him.
Or any other words, ever again…
— The Tears of a Clown (@Modmuffin) March 21, 2019
Although the courts have understandably operated within the parameters of current UK law, undeniably, better regulation would allow consenting adult body autonomy and freedom of expression while giving artists the tools to comply with requests within safe and legal boundaries.
If you have a body modification story you want to tell, share it with UNILAD via [email protected]
A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.