Jasmine Grace Marino educates Needham Library goers about the misconceptions of prostitution and human trafficking as she tells her story as a survivor of sex trafficking. Photos by Laura Drinan
By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter
“The first time he put his hands on me, we were coming from Connecticut and I was driving, probably two in the morning. I say something he doesn’t like, and he backhands me so hard that my head hit the window and my vision actually became blurry. I couldn’t see, so I had to pull over. He just proceeded to pull me out of the car and beat me on the side of the highway … I just cried because that’s when I knew, ‘Oh, man, what did I get myself into? I’m not going to be able to just walk away.’”
This was just a few seconds of Jasmine Grace Marino’s heartbreaking story as a victim of sex trafficking. To share her story and subject of her book, “The Autobiography of Jasmine Grace,” and raise awareness about the cruel issue of human trafficking, the Friends of the Needham Free Public Library and Needham PATH (People Against Trafficking Humans) invited Jasmine to speak in the library’s Community Room on September 28.
Jasmine, as a teenager, was manipulated and forced into the commercial sex trade. Before telling her own story, Jasmine presented some horrific facts: the average age into the commercial sex trade is 12 to 14, and one third of children who go missing each year end up exploited in the commercial sex trade.
Throughout her childhood, Jasmine felt isolated by her family for various reasons. “I believe that because I didn’t receive that nurturing care early on, that I didn’t feel that love and acceptance, I ended up searching for it for the rest of my life, sadly in all the wrong places,” said Jasmine. “Early childhood trauma really sets you up for a disastrous life later.” Luckily, Jasmine’s grandparents were nurturing and wholesome, which Jasmine said planted a seed of love and worth inside of her and helped her get out of the commercial sex trade.
Jasmine continued to feel isolated growing up in Saugus, Massachusetts, where she went to a vocational school and earned her cosmetology license. After graduating, she worked as a hairdresser and was an aspiring journalist. However, after meeting a man who would later become her trafficker, Jasmine’s plans slowly fell apart. After months of manipulation by her “boyfriend” and reconnecting with a friend who had become a prostitute, Jasmine was coerced into the commercial sex trade.
Her first place to work was in Hartford, Connecticut. “They want to send you to a place where you’re mentally and emotionally broken down. They want to break down your will as much as they can. Break your spirit. Control you as much as you can. So they send you to the hardest place first,” said Jasmine, recalling the fifteen-hour shifts during which she would be exploited. Jasmine said that after her first exchange, she completely shut off emotionally, but was overwhelmed by feelings of excitement from making so much money and intense feelings of shame.
As she was trafficked, Jasmine developed OCD-like tendencies, eating disorders, and even got pregnant by her trafficker, who forced her to terminate the pregnancy.
Jasmine had formed a relationship with a buyer who never asked for sex, but simply wanted platonic companionship, and asked for his help in getting out of the commercial sex trade with money she hid from her trafficker.
The pressure of life overwhelmed Jasmine after reentering normal society, which led to a drug addiction and homelessness. “I really turned into someone I could have just never imagined,” she said. But after her brother passed away from a drug overdose in 2006, Jasmine felt the desire get clean, and celebrated her tenth year of sobriety in September. As she put her life together, Jasmine discovered her faith, became a first-time mom, and found her husband.
Now a mom of three, Jasmine has started a blog for sex trafficking survivors and started an outreach ministry called Bags of Hope.
An inspiration to those who hear her story and a survivor who is dedicated to helping women who are being trafficked, Jasmine has worked with the Department of Homeland Security to try to end human trafficking.
Peter DiMarzio, a Victim Assistant Specialist at the Department of Homeland Security, presented Jasmine with the “Outstanding Outreach Award,” proving that one can achieve happiness, success, and make a difference regardless of their past.