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What is a Professor of Poetry? How can poetry be professed?

~W.H. Auden

 

Jasmine’s Story: a Survivor Speaks Out

 

[[This interview was originally conducted for the Amirah safe house blog in 2013. Jasmine is a survivor of sex-trafficking--also known as modern-day slavery. Currently she works with Bags of Hope and continues to be a survivor-advocate. I'm very grateful that she generously agreed to a candid interview about the coercion process inherent in sex-trafficking, about her traumatic experiences in “the life,” and about her subsequent recovery. For more about Jasmine, visit her blog: www.jasminegrace.org]]

 

FAMILY ENVIRONMENT

 

-What can say about your story? How did you get into “the life?”

 

It started when I was young. I was just headed down that path. I wasn’t raised in a loving, nurturing, supportive home at all. I was basically on my own from a very young age. My mom is bipolar, has depression. Till I was eight she didn’t really get any help. I didn’t have attachment issues but I turned into the caregiver. My dad was never home because he worked.

 

I’m not blaming my parents for everything but this is how it started, this is the environment.

 

I have a brother that’s 10 years older, he has a different dad. My mom had him when she was 18. We’re weren’t Christian, none of them are Christian, none are healthy in that aspect, not emotionally healthy. A lot of addictions—a huge amount—my mother’s brothers are complete addicts. So she didn’t have the drug problem but just the other behaviors. My dad was a workaholic. He could’ve been home more. My brother’s dad was an alcoholic—so when she met my dad, he was the good guy. And then she had me and my brother hated me—it was awkward. He was 10 years older, he was not interested. First comes my dad, then comes me…and if you don’t have coping skills then it’s tough.

 

I was on my own. No one was there to help me in any other direction. No one knew any better. When I got sober I didn’t even know sober was a word. I didn’t know sobriety was a word. Really co-dependent, really crazy stuff happened—like my mother didn’t like the color green so I didn’t like the color green…she just controlled everything because everything was so out of control.

 

I did have a grandmother, my dad’s mom, who was really nice to me, she was loving and nurturing, she’s really close to my heart.And she used to take me to church and stuff and she really groomed in me that piece of me that felt worthy. She hung out with me, put rollers in my hair, was really nice to me.

 

But I was drinking and drugging at 13. “Partying.” Sometimes I came home drunk and my mom got mad but nobody did anything. At 14 I decided that I wanted to go to a vocational high school because I wanted to be a hairdresser. At 14 I’m making these decisions. My only other choice was to go to Saugus High and I knew at 14 that if I went there I’d be a loser forever. So, I was trying!

 

Every boyfriend I ever had was a lunatic back then. I graduated, I had a hairdresser license, I was working at a little salon in Revere. And I was trying. I was going to North Shore Comm. College.I wanted to be a journalist. Be a writer. I had a little car…But I was still partying and hanging out with my friends. And I was at a nightclub one night…and here he comes.With all his fancy jewelry and money.

 

COERSION PROCESS

 

-Was he older?

 

No he was, like, 21. He was a regular dude. People think of a pimp and they think of “Huggy Bear” from the 70’s. This guy was a regular dude from Dorchester or Roxbury. And I’m at the bar drinking, I’m underage, and he’s says, “You want a drink,” and he had all this money.I was so impressed! I thought I was going to play him or something. Time goes on, he hung out with me, he brought me to the mall, bought me things. He had this registry business—when you go buy a car, he would register it for you, he would run to the registry to get the plates. But on the side he had a girl selling drugs for him. It was a front! We had competition, me and this girl, later. She was doing that for him and I was going to hook for him. I was new, and he didn’t have any other girls before that. And that’s how he got to me. He made me the first one--“the bottom,” they call it the “bottom bitch,” and I was going to control and handle everything, I was going to teach other girls,I was going to hold it down. He really got that into me. So I felt special, I felt empowered.

 

-Yeah, if you’re given power over other people you’re like, yeah you can have power over me.

 

Yeah. And at the same time he was grooming me, I had a childhood friend that was with another pimp and she fell off the face of the earth for awhile and I kind of knew she was doing something like this. But then, don’t you know, he’s friends with that guy. It could not have been planned better.

 

-Like evil destiny.

 

But how God uses it now! It’s good! So he brings me to her house…this was before I started anything, he was grooming me. And I was so happy to see her, I hadn’t seen her in awhile. And she was living in Chestnut Hill, and he had a huge house, they had three or four cars (Mercedes, BMWs, Range Rovers) and three or four other girls living there. She had her own room. She had lots of stuff—clothes, shoes, money, jewelry. She was like—this is awesome

 

-She didn’t tell you about any downsides?

 

She thought it was awesome. That’s the thing—you think it is. But she hadn’t been down for that long. So it hadn’t gotten that bad yet. Y’know, the beatings don’t start right away. It’s later…when you want to get out. Of course I always had a big mouth. I was always getting smacked for that, I was always trying to “tell him.” Because, I hated everything. So the beatings just get worse till you don’t talk anymore. You’re just silent.

 

Three or four months after I met my pimp he sent me to Connecticut to work.

 

-And you knew what you'd be doing?

 

I knew. I talked to my one friend. She told me how to do it. How to talk to the tricks. How to put condoms on. She said this is what you’ve got to do. So I was just, “Alright.” I always knew this wasn’t going to be good but I thought, “Let me just see what happens.”

 

-Is it also that there were no other options emotionally?

 

Yes, no other options emotionally. Plus, I had always dated dudes my whole life who were jerks, broke, never had anything, and always taking from me. They sucked everything out of me. So, I felt like for once I was making choices, making money…

 

-But how did he know you’d do it?

 

Yeah! I don’t know. Did he set out to be like that? Or did it all just fall into place? How did he spot the vulnerability in all of us? How do we look so weak? How do we look so stupid? How did he know we’d fall for this?

 

I remember the first time I ever handed him money. I'd been working in Connecticut. (I remember the first guy I had to service too like it was yesterday—Connecticut is really hardcore—if you can pass Connecticut then you’re “broken”—it’s like the street but indoor, it’s just so hard—if you can pass that you get sent to Maine which has bigger windows and it’s overlooking some kind of river—it was a higher priced place—so you’re sent to the gross gross grossest dirtiest place and if you can pass that you’re able to go to Maine).

 

So, I came home from Connecticut and I’d worked from 11am to 1am. And you can’t leave the place, you have to eat in there, it’s all day long, you’ve no sense of what’s going on in the world, there are no windows. And by the time we got home it was daylight. We parked, we got out of the car and I have all the money, and we meet in the back of the car—and we’re just staring at each other. And he says, “Is this going to be a problem?” And I said, “…no.” But inside I’m like, “Yeah!” That first time, I knew it was wrong. But I was already deep in it. Trapped. Emotionally, physically.

 

-You talked about shame before, so yeah, once you did it that was it…

 

Yeah. It sealed the deal.

 

And who wants to do that?!? The guys are disgusting, dirty, gross. You have no idea. Most of the time you didn’t have to do anything you didn’t want to do—I tried to have rules. But after a while, you just can’t take it, you just numb out. I was not even there, not existing. And I was sober the whole time.

 

-When did you start using?

 

When I got out. Because the pain was so intense. There was no aftercare. Trafficking wasn’t a big cause back then. And, I never put myself in that category of sex-trafficking

 

-What changed? How did apply the term “slave” to yourself?

 

When I would work in Maine and I would go there by myself. Which is another crazy thing. People don’t understand that. "How could you drive yourself to work and come home every day without him there?" People don’t understand that my mind is so damaged that it was like he was right there. “Why didn’t you escape then,” they ask. But every time I did escape or leave but he’d just come and get me. I would only go to my parents house…

 

-But where did you have to go? You were young enough where you didn’t have or know about resources…

 

There were no human trafficking hotlines back then! And my family just stuck their head in the sand…probably sensed something was wrong but never pried, never asked too many questions. And I had black eyes! But no one ever put their foot in and said something.

 

I was definitely a slave. But it was more to sin. To this man who had me doing things. It was darkness.

 

You think of slavery as in cuffs or chains but it was psychological. I was trapped. I was so non-existing that I couldn't function. I was suffering in such severe trauma that I was just in straight survival mode for so long. It’s so crazy the brainwashing…because I really believed I was no good. And that I was never going to amount to anything. Before that I was OK, thought I could do things in my life. But after that I believed I could never succeed. He really got that into my head. Plus what I was doing made me feel a hundred times worse.

 

Girls may appear like this is what they want to do. But they don’t. Deep inside this is not what they want—even though they might look like they’re happy.

 

-When I tell people that I write for this blog they say that prostitution is good for the ones who want to do it. These people insist there are people who really want do want to do it. What should I say to these people?

 

Say that’s judgment. That’s got to stop. These people need help and support. Not judgement.

 

-I see—to say that about someone is to judge them. As if someone would be so low that they would want to do it.

 

Yeah!

 

-Why are you sharing your story about commercial/sexual-exploitation?

 

I want to use the voice that was silenced for so long. I had no voice, no thoughts or opinions, no right to my voice. So I want to speak for those that are in the same situation. Because my voice is free. I’ve been given freedom though Christ.And that’s huge. The redemption is huge. He really freed me. I’ve experienced tremendous freedom. I want that to be for somebody else. There are probably survivors out there that aren’t sharing because of the shame. And shame is what the enemy uses to keep us silent.

 

-When I first saw you, you were sharing your story at the Every Captive Free Benefit Concert. Why did you want to speak out at that particular event?

 

It was my second time speaking out. I’ve been out of the life for 6 years but it wasn’t until just recently, like around August or September 2012, that I got healed of lots of shame, and feeling I was unworthy and dirty and all this stuff that was keeping me in that space. So through church, and going through a transformation class, and praying, I got healed.

 

We were at this transformation class and every week was a different topic: rejection, soul-ties, shame. This one particular night—I forget the topic—we were praying and I got these words in my head…like a song : “Swing Low, sweet chariot.” So I go home and Google the phrase and come to find out it’s what the African slaves sang out at the underground railroad! They have all these songs, these spiritual hymns that they sang in code about how they’ll one day be free. It’s how they spoke to each other, how they dreamt of freedom, and God. So I was totally blown away! I emailed my pastor. And he says, “Pslam 37:32…the lord will give me songs of victory and I will be delivered.”

 

-I know you’re now a mentor at My Life My Choice. Can you share a little bit about mentoring survivors of commercial/sexual-exploitation?

 

When I came out of the life and tried to work and make a life for myself –it was so hard! I found a spiritual mentor at the church where I went to AA meetings. A woman there just loved me. For no reason she just loved me, and took me under her wing like a spiritual mentor, like a mom I never really had. She helped me get my real estate license and I worked for her agency. And that was the first way that I made a real independent living. So I rented apartments and stuff all the way up until that time in August/September 2012 when I heard that song lyric.

 

Then one day, I was at a meeting with some women from Gathering for Hope, where women talk about what they’re doing for God for women and children that are oppressed. And I met this one woman who has a ministry called Route 1 Ministries who makes relationships with the women dancers simply by loving them. I was blown away that someone would do this. I felt something pressing hard on me telling me to speak up… So I had to speak up! I said, “I love what you’re doing but I’d love to work on the prevention side of things before the girls make those decisions.” Because for me, I was not a child prostitute: I was 18, 19. But what was wrong? Something was wrong in my life that I was persuaded. That I was manipulated into prostitution. So I’d love to work with girls who are headed in that same direction. Someone needs to tell them that they’re loved if they’re not getting it where they’re at. So she said,“You should call My Life My Choice.” So I did and I got interviewed. And I got hired! And it was at the same time that I got healed, and had that song got in my head, that I got the job and God just blew open the doors for me. I couldn’t mentor until I was healed from the shame, till I had it together…because, how could I speak about this stuff unless I had it together?

 

Then I connected to Amirah…and from there I was asked to speak at Gordon-Connwell College. And the woman who invited me there knew I was a survivor and asked me to write everything down because she wanted to know what I was going to say…but I didn’t say anything on that paper! God just took over—that’s just how it works. Then this other woman asked me to speak, and then Amirah asked me to speak at their annual dinner…

 

-When I saw you at the Every Captive Free event, it was really…real… It hit me that this stuff happens to truly unloved kids…

 

My girls are at wicked high risk but they’re not in the life yet. I mentor five now…one is in the program…she’s been in so many programs, this poor girl…in DCF custody…and she runs constantly…she’s always on the run. And every time—we don’t know where she is or who she’s having sex with…having sex just to have a place to say…having sex just to smoke some weed… So I just try to be that constant support, and be the light and the model of health and self-care. To let them know I’ve totally been through this, and why—that when I was their age I was doing the exact same thing…I see myself in each and all of them: crazy, drinking, thinking “I can do anything.” But I tell them, “It all could lead to a really bad path!” Because I know—they don’t think they’re worthy at all. And that’s how I felt: unworthy. And you learn that from a really young age, because you’re a girl and pretty you try to use that as a tool to get what you want. I did that too from a really young age. But that’s not self-worth.

 

-What do they want?

 

Love! That’s all I really ever wanted was love and acceptance. I know that’s what these girls want. They want love and they’re not getting that from home.