Her pimp stripped her from agency, self-worth, passions, and identity. She worked from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. three days in a row after being chosen by men and put on one of nine beds in the back of a massage parlor in Hartford, Conn.
Jasmine Grace, from Revere, Mass., grew up in a broken household. Her parents distant and preoccupied, her brother suffering from drug addiction and mental health disorders, Grace relied on her grandparents for stability and direction. With aid from them, Grace had visions of becoming a journalist when she grew up.
At 19, Grace found herself at a local nightclub “looking for love and attention” when she met a man who gave that to her- but with years of emotional, mental, and physical abuse masked with diamonds, drugs, and fast cash.
Street prostitution in Boston, known as the “Combat Zone” was cleaned up and brought indoors in a more strategic, low-key, way of sex trafficking. Grace was sent by her pimp to Hartford, Conn. “to break you down emotionally,” she noted. Sex trafficking seemed to be resolved, she noted, but it still happened behind closed doors.
“I will never forget the first time, the man could have been my grandfather. It was the most scary, horrifying experience,” Grace, who was a teenager at the time, recalled.
There was a shift of balance in her life, between her days working as a prostitute and her “off days” working part-time attempting to hold some sense of normalcy in life. That yearning for normalcy, though, posed difficult. The repetitive act of selling herself, the blinded shock by who chose her, and the lack of worth made her disassociate emotionally. “Dissociation” is a response to traumatic experiences, a strategy often used when the option of fleeing or escaping isn’t an option. An act of protection, the mind and body shut down as the most immediate way of coping to traumatic experiences, according to the National Institution of Health.
Sex trafficking headlines from media coverage highlight the gut-wrenching stories of sex trade and and a corrupt system, making it so easily rejected by society. Fear, though, keeps women in the sex trade system. Glorious attempts for reconciliation, showered in diamonds and Louis Vuitton accessories, partnered with a gun pointed to your head and threats against your family, make escaping a fear-riddled, unfathomable, act.
“I would always try to escape, but then I would go back. [Coming home] happened so often my dad stopped helping me bring my bags into the house because he knew I’d just go back,” Grace recounted.
Drinking and drugging became consistent in her life to numb the pain and suicidal thoughts she had against herself. Her pimp got her pregnant, an act that asserts a heavier dominance and attachment on their women to keep them around. She was forced by her pimp to terminate the baby.
“I was so horrified,” she explained. “To take a life was too much for me to handle, I knew I had to get away.”
Grace began stashing away money little by little, hiding it in plants, outside, and nooks in the house she was staying at. With just about 6 thousand dollars saved, she sought better alternatives to living and seeking a place of her own outside of her pimp’s house. But as a prostitute with no real job, no stable house address, and no history of pay-stubs, approval for an apartment wasn’t expected.
“I was sold so many fake dreams. No child dreams of being a prostitute,” Grace said.
In the years of Craigslists’s popularity, Grace found her “Safe Man” who paid her, an act of prostitution but uncommon for what she was used to, to sit and talk for hours but in a non-sexual way. Grace grew her relationship with him so much so by the time she sought refuge, he supplemented her with fake pay stubs from his business so she could be approved for an apartment of her own. Even then, refuge was followed by suicidal thoughts and confusion about her future.
At 27, following the attempt to disconnect with the lifestyle she became accustomed to, stockholm syndrome hit and Grace called her pimp back. Reliance on oxycontin filled the void, numed her pain, and helped her cope.
She was sold for sex for five years, first in Hartford, at a massage parlor in Maine and then on adult websites.
Her pimp began beating her up when she said she wanted out. The first time happened on a ride home from Hartford. He backhanded Grace, blurring her vision, then pulled her out of the car and beat her. She didn’t call 911, though.
Grace continued on to earn a business degree at Bunker Hill Community College. She got stronger. That, she said, was a turning point.
Years of consistent inconsistency gave Grace a “hard, messy, complicated life.” Discovering her Christianity, marrying her husband and having five children provided her life to be “full of joy and peace,” she noted.
“I am no longer looking through the lens of a victim,” Grace said. The power of sharing her story has opened doors, created change, and given real anecdotes to inside the corruption of modern-day human slave trade that happen among the streets of our United States’ cities.
Her newly released book, “The Diary of Jasmine Grace” shares her story in a full, emotionally inclined narrative. She has launched an initiative called “Bags of Hope” that began during her recovery. A bag filled with toiletries and a note card often reading something along the lines of “There is a better life” or “You are loved” are handed out to women on the streets by Grace to offer them hope. “To show them they can get out just like I did,” she said.
Online sex trafficking, too, is an issue overlooked but detrimental to society and objectification against men, women and children who are sold online. An online site, Backpage, is still used in the trade today.
Jasmine Grace’s story has expanded beyond Massachusetts where her roots grew. A speaker, author, mother and wife, she too is an advocate and survivor of sex trafficking. For more information about Bags of Hope visit https://jasminegrace.org.