Conference hosted by St. Anne’s aims to teach healthcare professionals signs of trafficking
DARTMOUTH – Groomed by her boyfriend to be sex worker, Jasmine Grace Marino is free now, and telling her story to healthcare professionals to save other young people from the horrors she endured for five years.
“I’m a completely different person now,” Marino told the group during her recent presentation at “Hiding in plain sight: Human trafficking in healthcare,” hosted by St. Anne’s Hospital.
Human trafficking, often thought of as something that happens in other places, does hide in plain sight and can happen in any community, according to the expert speakers who are teaching others to spot victims in their emergency rooms and physician offices.
“We actually didn’t know there was a link between human trafficking and healthcare,” said presenter Dr. Hanni Stoklosa, an emergency room physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and executive director of HEAL Trafficking.
However, some 88 percent of victims had accessed health care while being trafficked in the United States, and some 50,000 people are trafficked each year. “It’s a huge opportunity for us and a huge responsibility,” Stoklosa said.
Marino, a resident of the North Shore region of Massachusetts, was involved in underage drinking when she was 12 or 13 years old and had been raped twice by the time she was 14. But, that’s just the sad beginning of her story.
At 19, she met a man that treated her with the love and kindness she so desperately desired. He was handsome, had money and an expensive car.
Over time, he used his charm to “coerce and manipulate” her into selling her body, she said. “’You’re having sex anyway, you might as well get paid for it,’” he told her.
He told her they “could have everything together,” including wealth and a home. Marino believed him.
She ended up in a massage parlor, where there were “little rooms with beds” in the back. Her first client was a man old enough to be her grandfather. “I was completely horrified,” she said.
When her boyfriend put out his hand for the money she’d earned, she was confused, and hadn’t yet thought of him as a pimp. At that moment, she said she felt that she’d “lost her voice.”
At times, she worked two to three days in a row with little sleep. Eventually, she turned to drugs and that spiraled into addiction, abuse and more trauma.
She tried to get out multiple times, and that’s when the beatings started.
“I was trapped,” Marino said. “I thought all I was going to be for the rest of my life was a dirty prostitute.”
When she got pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, she said he “forced me to terminate the pregnancy. That was devastating to me.”
A hair stylist who had trained at a trade high school, Marino had other dreams. During her years as a prostitute, she’d also gone to community college and earned an associate’s degree in business. She wanted to be a writer perhaps. As a child, she dreamed of being a teacher or veterinarian.
“Being a prostitute wasn’t something I wanted,” Marino said.
At the time, Marino hadn’t realized that she was a victim of sex trafficking.
She said she had sought health care numerous times while involved in the sex trade. She sought medication for sexual transmitted diseases and other health concerns due to the daily stress that was taking a toll on her body and mind. But, her doctors didn’t make the connection.
Stoklosa said it was her goal to educate workers in the health field, including physicians, nurses and others, to recognize some tell-tale signs of human trafficking, just as they would for victims of sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and domestic and other types of violence.
“I’ve never had a patient say they are a victim of human trafficking,” Stoklosa said.
Trafficking can range from sexual to labor, or both. “Labor trafficking is at least equal or more,” Stoklosa said.
Traffickers find their victims in a number of trades. “They’re looking for easy prey. They’re looking for vulnerabilities,” Stoklosa said.
Traffickers might control their victim with physical or psychological abuse. They might control how much they eat or sleep, or give them a “price” for freedom that can never be paid. They often get them addicted to drugs.
Health workers might notice a number of clues, such as: a patient who looks to a companion before speaking, seems nervous, or has no identification or health insurance. The patient may have new and old wounds or nutritional deficiencies. The medical complaint being presented may have been going on for a long time.
The most that health workers can do if they recognize symptoms and suspect human trafficking is prioritize the patient’s safety, ask questions, educate but do not interrogate, find a way to speak to the victim alone, and basically “show you care,” Stoklosa said. It may take a while for the victim to come forward or to seek help.
For Marino, it took time, but she eventually called the police and removed herself from the situation 11 years ago. She got treatment for her addiction and began a new life.
“I finally got clean and sober,” Marino said.
She has since written a book about the ordeal: “The Diary of Jasmine Grace,” available on Amazon, and is a speaker and presenter at schools, colleges, and conferences. She has worked in prevention organizations as a mentor and group facilitator to at-risk youth and has been an advocate for women at a residential safe home.
Marino, today, is a wife and mother.
To learn more, visit HEAL Trafficking at https://healtrafficking.org/
Email Deborah Allard at [email protected]