Unearthing Boston’s ‘Underground’ Human Trafficking Industry
Jasmine Marino is the typical “girl next door”. She’s a mother of three children and has just moved into a new house in New Hampshire. Inside her mini van, you’ll find a carseat for her eight-month old, a bag full of baby wipes, a trunk full of small purple bags labelled “Bags of Hope” and a few copies of her book “The Diary of Jasmine Grace.”
Marino’s story is far from typical. In her published book, “The Diary of Jasmine Grace”, she illustrates her journey as a victim of human sex trafficking. Though she managed to escape from her trafficker in 2005, Marino turned to substance abuse and used prostitution as a means to support her growing drug habits.
Today, she is ten years sober and on a mission to raise awareness about the prevalence of human sex trafficking in Massachusetts.
According to data provided by the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTRC), more and more trafficking incidents are being reported in Massachusetts each year. And 147 calls have been recorded as of June 30, 2017.
Number of trafficking reports received by NHTRC in 2014, 2015 and 2016
“Prostitutes are often looked at as the throwaways of society. No girl ever grows up wanting to be a prostitute,” she said. “When I met my boyfriend, who later became my ‘pimp’, my need to be accepted and loved was greater than anything. So I became what he wanted me to be. I was never handcuffed, but I was in mental and emotional bondage.”
Demand Feeds the Supply
By sharing her story and being transparent about her journey, Marino is fighting the stigma against trafficked workers. She says that more often than not, trafficked sex workers get [charged with] prostitution and refuse to testify because of the shame that’s associated with what they do. “Without a testimony, both the trafficker and the buyer walk away — this ‘silence’ is doing more harm than good. That’s why we need to have these conversations. Victims need to know that there is a way out, and police officers have to start holding the buyers accountable,” she says.
Demand Abolition, an NGO that’s “committed to eradicating the illegal commercial sex industry in the US”, conducted an anonymous survey on 200 men in the Boston area. The survey found that half of the men admitted to being involved in buying sex, and they considered being added to a sex offender registry as their main deterrent.
Answers to “What would deter you from buying sex?” ranked from most deterrent (top) to least (bottom)
Efforts have been made by local law enforcement to reduce the demand behind sex trafficking. In March 2017, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey teamed up with the Massachusetts State Police’s Human Trafficking Department to put an end to “the victimization of vulnerable people [and the] demand for commercial sex.”
There is a long way to go, and Marino fears that law enforcement will have trouble keeping up with the demand because of “digitization” of commercial sex.
Commercial Sex Goes Online
In Boston, more than 20,000 ads selling people for sex are posted online every month, with each ad receiving an average of 52 responses, and there are over 9,000 searches for sex buying opportunities happening each day, according to research done by Demand Abolition.
“It’s no longer hidden — it’s happening in plain sight,” says Marino, referring to the human trafficking ads she has seen on the internet. “The internet is crawling with these ads and it’s only feeding that demand.”
“It’s important that we discuss these issues, but it’s also important that we provide the right services to the victims,” says Marino.
That is what she hopes to achieve through “Bags of Hope”, an outreach ministry she founded out of the Emmanuel Gospel Center .
Driven and funded by a community of donors, each bag is filled with basic material needs, including shampoo, toothpaste, and other female products. “By doing this we let the women know there is a better way, they are treasured, and we are here to help,” says Marino.
Each bag also includes a card with a list of resources that these women can use in case they are suffering from trauma, mental illness or substance abuse.