January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The Clinical Simulation Laboratory at the University of Vermont has programs that train healthcare professionals to identify and work with patients who are victims of human trafficking. Guest blogger Jasmine Marino, a human trafficking survivor, shares her story.
I was 18 years old.. I just graduated from a vocational high school and passed the test in front of the cosmetology board. I was excited to be a licensed hairdresser and was attending a community college, majoring in Journalism. I wanted to be a writer and move to New York some day, maybe write for one of those big name magazines.
But my dreams quickly faded as I got involved with a guy I met at a local night club….
It was just a regular Friday or Saturday night; me and my girls were already drunk before we entered the club with our fake I.D’s. We were having a good time, dancing and pushing away any whack-ass dudes that tried to step to us. Then this guy walked up to us, and he knew one of my friends’ boyfriends so he was automatically cool. He was a good-looking African-American in his early twenties. We will call him Brian.
He brought me to the bar and offered to buy me a drink.When he pulled out a stack of money and had a blinged-out bracelet dripping in diamonds and gold. I did the once over and followed the shine up to his ears and then to the necklace with the Jesus piece and thought: “Hmmm, this dude might be worth my time.”
You should know that I had just been dumped by a guy that I was dating off and on for almost 2 years and recently had an abortion. He already had two children; he said I was too young and not ready to have his kid. With that said, I was young, broken, naive and looking for someone to love me for me. Maybe even fix or save me.
Me and B exchanged phone numbers and we began to chat over the phone. A few weeks went by and we met up to chill in East Boston. I lived a few towns over, but most of my friends lived in Eastie and he was working as a registry runner for one of the car dealerships close by. He pulled up in his champagne colored Mercedes Benz, I got in and his eyes were hazy from smoking weed but he was cool, calm and full of compliments. Right away he started to tell me about his registry business – how he was an entrepreneur and was “all about making that money.” He asked me questions about my life and we were getting to know each other.
After that night, we started to hang out often, and he would take me out and buy me fancy clothes and shoes. I felt special and began trusting him because he was paying so much attention to me. I learned he grew up around crime, drugs and violence in the inner city of Boston. He never knew his father and said his mother raised him and two other siblings. B was the hustler of the family and took care of his mother even though she worked. They managed to get out of the ghetto and move to a better area just outside of Boston.
I confided in him and told him that I wanted to be a writer and he would say things like: “Why would you want to write for a magazine when you could own it?” or “Why would you want to work in a salon? I can see you owning the salon and just doing hair for fun.” These statements were way out of my league because how was a young girl like me ever going to own anything? I was only 19 by this time.. and he was trying to build confidence in me and have me see him as the guy I would have to stay loyal to. He was saying he could help make all these dreams come true.
He just didn’t say how..
One night, I was invited by a guy friend to a party at a state college. I walked into a small apartment where there was a bunch of drunk college guys. I was expecting a good time – to hang out and get drunk myself when the unthinkable happened. My friend told me the entertainment was coming, that he had hired a dancer from an agency. I didn’t think anything of it until the girl walked in and it was my best friend, Suzanne! I was in complete shock because I hadn’t seen her in awhile. I knew she had moved in with a new boyfriend, but I didn’t know.. She became a stripper?! As I began to cry, she was utterly embarrassed, and, yes, I ruined the party. She left.
I drank myself to an oblivion.
Weeks went on and I told B about that situation. He told me that he happened to know Suzanne’s man and asked if I wanted to talk to her.. I jumped at the opportunity to call her. When we got on the phone, we were both excited and happy to talk. I apologized for ruining her dancing gig at the college, and she let me know that’s what she’s been doing since she got down with her new man. She mentioned that she was living in a big house with some other girls that she called her “wives- in-laws” and I should come visit.
B took me to her house and I was impressed with the Range Rover and BMW in the driveway. The house was in the expensive area of Boston and had a fence around it for privacy. Suzanne had her own bedroom with lots of clothes, shoes and jewelry.
She convinced me that her life was amazing. She most likely believed that because when you are new to The Life, you tell yourself that just to get through the day. As we caught up, she told me that she worked in a massage parlor in Maine and she made up to $1,000 a day turning tricks. She had to give it all to her man, but he provided all she needed so it wasn’t a bad deal because he was promising her the good life.
She taught me how to service the johns and what to say to them so they would give me more money. I left from her house that day, wondering if this life was going to work out for me..
And that, my friend, is how the grooming process of pimping works. The pimp spots the vulnerable girl, makes her feel loved, safe and special because she lacks self worth and is looking for validation. At the same time she starts to fall in love with him. When he asks her to sell her body to complete strangers, she’s not thrilled with the idea but wants him to continue loving her. It’s a form of brainwashing, manipulation and control. It continues to get worse, and it doesn’t end like a fairy-tale.
Every girl is has a different story but the process is the same…
Before I knew it, I had gotten in too deep with B. I tried to leave numerous times but the beatings, violence, threats, manipulation and fear kept me under his control for five long years. By the fifth year, I became pregnant with his child. Sadly, he forced me to terminate the pregnancy. That’s when I became determined to leave for good. It was then that I realized none of the dreams he sold me were going to come true.
I was devastated. I managed to save money without him noticing and got myself an apartment. I called the police and as they stood on the porch, I moved out my belongings in trash bags. I was scared traumatized and alone. I tried to put the shattered pieces of my life back together but working a square job from 9-5 and making $7 an hour didn’t cut it. A few weeks went by and I called my trafficker back because relapse is part of the process. Needless to say, it didn’t work out and he was finally arrested for domestic violence one night after a large argument between us. I obtained a restraining order and he stayed away.
I then turned to drinking and drugs to numb the emotional and mental pain. That propelled me back into the life of prostitution and more trauma. My life spiraled out of control for another three years.
I lost it all.
I was homeless, addicted to heroin and doing things I never imagined I would be doing.
Because of the addiction, that lead me into substance abuse treatment programs and finally in September 2007, I got clean and sober and haven’t looked back since. The journey has been difficult and messy but I wouldn’t trade it in for nothing.
I have been working as a public speaker, survivor leader and director of my own outreach ministry, Bags of Hope for three years. Through lots of work on myself, my growing faith in God and a supportive and loving church community, I was able to heal of my past shame and and be the light for so many other women that are out there still enslaved.
*Names have been changed
Jasmine Grace Marino is a survivor leader in the anti-trafficking movement. In addition to her life experience as a survivor of sexual exploitation, she brings the commitment, perspective, and necessary advocacy skills to see the hard work of survivor transformation through successfully. Visit her online at http://jasminegrace.org/.