NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine — Jasmine Marino-Fiandaca was 19 when she got into “the life.”
“That’s what they call it,” she said Saturday. “Or ‘the game.’”
A teenager from a dysfunctional home, Marino-Fiandaca was an easy target for the man who became her “boyfriend” before luring her into prostitution and keeping her in the life, against her will, for five years.
He promised her love, security, financial stability — everything she had always wanted.
“We were going to ride off into the sunset,” she said. “Coming from a brokenness — I had two parents but they were dysfunctional — that vulnerability was already there,” she said. “And the trafficker plays on that. They can sniff it out.”
Now 33 and out of “the life” for years, Marino-Fiandaca will speak of her experience, and her recovery, at the Not Here conference on human trafficking April 10-11 at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. Featuring investigators, scholars and advocates, the conference is designed to promote awareness of human trafficking.
As a survivor, Marino-Fiandaca said trafficking can happen — and is happening — everywhere.
Earlier this month, three Gorham residents were accused of holding a 19-year-old woman against her will and forcing her to engage in sex acts to earn her keep. One of the men allegedly met the teen online and then brought her to Maine from a teen shelter in New Hampshire with promises of a happy ending. She said she escaped when she learned they allegedly planned to sell her to a pimp for $30,000.
For Marino-Fiandaca, the transition from girlfriend to prostitute also was relatively quick.
“He said, ‘Well, you’ve had sex with other dudes in your life. Why don’t you get paid for it,’” she told the Bangor Daily News on Saturday. She learned of a friend engaged in prostitution and was enticed by “lots of clothes, lots of jewelry and cars.”
So she went to work in a massage parlor, where clients would pay a $60 door fee before being led to a back room where women would “serve them,” Marino-Fiandaca said. She’d work 14-hour days, three or four days in a row, and then turn her earnings over to her “boyfriend.”
“The shame was just horrible,” she said. “Right away I changed my mind and said, ‘I can’t do this. This is gross.’ But when I spoke up, that’s when the beatings started.”
If she didn’t meet her quota each day, he’d beat her harder, she said.
Marino-Fiandaca was sent to Florida and Nevada, and to the Danish Health Club, a massage parlor that operated as a front for a prostitution ring in Kittery just before it was raided by police in 2005.
Then she was marketed on Craigslist and did “in-calls” and “out-calls” to hotels and private homes.
Finally, when she was about 23, Marino-Fiandaca became pregnant. When she was forced to have an abortion, she said, she decided she had to get out.
She skimmed money off her fee and hid the cash in potted plants and holes in the ground. When she had enough to rent an apartment, she ran away.
But trying to live a normal life was challenging, and new friends introduced Marino-Fiandaca to OxyContin, which “numbed the emotional pain,” she said. She soon found herself back in the life in order to support a heroin habit.
At 27, she knew that if she didn’t get sober, she’d die, and she joined a 12-step program and a Christian church — where she met women who don’t judge her, she said.
Today, Marino-Fiandaca is in recovery, both from the life and addiction. She has two small children and is writing her autobiography. Public speaking, working at a safe home north of Boston and putting a face on the problem of sex trafficking is all part of her recovery.
“Before I was told I was dirty, no good, a prostitute,” she said. “Now I’m clean, I’m good — I’m transformed.”
Stephanie Henry, 49, experienced a different type of exploitation, which she documented in her memoir, “If Only I Could Sleep,” and her blog. She will share her experience of molestation, rape and recovery at the New Gloucester forum.
Henry started writing her story when she found herself in a treatment facility, “bulimic, 110 pounds and strung out on cocaine” at the age of 25. She had just lost custody of her 2-year-old daughter.
As a young child, Henry was molested by a family member. At 13, she was raped by another. As a young woman, she worked as a stripper for seven years at a truck stop off Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City. Men would visit the club and then coax young girls — mostly runaways, according to Henry — to leave with them.
At 22 and “desperate,” Henry said she became charmed by a man who later beat her so badly she was hospitalized.
“Nine times out of 10 — maybe 10 of 10 — these people who are sold have lost a portion of themselves along the line,” she said. “When you lose portions of yourself, you spend so much of your life trying to get that back, and you trust the wrong people.”
Finally, after being assaulted by a doctor during an exam and learning the same thing happened to a friend, she’d had enough, she said.
“I said, ‘No more,’” Henry said. “And three months later I got an email about this conference. I said, ‘Not here?’ Hell, not anywhere. And that’s what fuels me.”
Like Marino-Fiandaca , Henry found healing when she began helping others. Last summer, through a grant from Goldman Sachs, she worked with girls being sold for sex in Cambodia. One girl, she said, had never considered that she had a choice.
“I told her, ‘Your body is not a commodity. You’re not an object. You have a choice in this,’” Henry said. “Through her translators, she said, ‘I do?’ I thought, Oh my God. It’s about speaking up. You’ve got a choice. You don’t have to do this.”
Helping others, she said, “is the only thing that makes sense about what happened to me.”
To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.
An earlier version of this story misspelled Jasmine Marino-Fiandaca’s last name.