Mass. law enforcement bringing focus on sex trafficking

7News uncovered a troubling trend in a shocking investigation about local women involved in the sex trade.    

It’s a dangerous reality catching the attention of law enforcement.

“When he brought up the idea to me about going to Hartford Connecticut to sell my body for sex in a massage parlor I wasn’t thrilled with the idea but I already had fallen in love with him and was trusting him and one of the things he said was ‘you’re already having sex why not get paid for it,’” Jasmine Marino told 7News.

Marino was 19 years old, living in Saugus and working as a hairdresser while going to college.

Her life changed after meeting a handsome man at a nightclub who led her down a dark road.

“He was grooming me. Little did I know I had a friend in the life, that’s what we call it, or the game. He reunited me with her. When I met her there at her house and saw how wonderful she was living it kind of sealed the deal for me,” Marino said.

Like a lot of victims, Marino was lured into the life with promises.

“We do have a lot of victims we work with who don’t even realize they are victims. The trafficker portrays themselves as ‘I’m going to be your boyfriend, I’m going to marry you, we’re going to have children, we’re going to have a white picket fence.’ But eventually it turns bad,” Bart Cahill from the Department of Homeland Security said.

Marino said for her it happened one night on the highway

“I said something he didn’t like and from the passenger side he backhanded me so hard that my head hit the side of the window. My vision became blurry and I had to pull over because I couldn’t see and he continued to beat me on the side of the highway at 3 in the morning,” she said.

Despite the beatings she stayed.

“I was moved to Kittery, Maine where I worked at another massage parlor. There were about 15 other girls that worked there,” Marino said.

Marino says some of the girls were as young as 13.

“Mostly white American girls, actually some that were from same area I grew up in,” she said.

Isolated and alone she had nowhere turn.

“I was too ashamed to tell them what was going on, I was too scared because he told me if I told anyone he would kill me or my family. All the times I tried to escape I had nowhere to go.”

There are only two small safe houses, just 14 beds, in all of New England for sex trade victims to get the shelter and support they need to try to rebuild their lives.

"I had one victim say to ‘I don’t have any money, I’d rather go back to the trafficker and take my chances,’” said Peter L. DiMarzio, M. Ed., a victim assistance specialist for Homeland Security Investigations.

No longer taking chances, Marino escaped the life seven years ago.

Now she helps mentor and advocate for other women forced to sell their bodies.

“I knew there was more for me. I kind of remember the 19-year-old girl that was going to college working as a hair dresser. I knew this life was not mine. I did not choose it,” she said.

Massachusetts officials agree that more needs to be done to help women like Marino, including setting up more safe houses. They tell 7News they’re trying to find money to do that.

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