A human trafficking victim’s message sparks heightened training for Northwell staff

Jasmine Grace Marino told her story of being a human trafficking victim at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of Jasmine Grace Marino)

In response to a human trafficking victim’s public message, Northwell Health announced that it will increase staffing and programs to combat a crime that plagues Long Island at a rate above the national average.

Jasmine Grace Marino told her story of being a human trafficking victim during a news conference at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park last week. Marino was a 19-year-old working at a hair salon when she met a man who piqued her interest.

“I was a regular teenager looking for someone to love me and give me attention,” Marino said. “It started out as him flaunting some money my way and led to him selling me a fake dream of a wonderful and worry-free life.”

Marino said the man turned her into a prostitute, something she said she could not escape due to the constant threats of physical and emotional abuse.  While she was terrified at the time, Marino said, it was not exactly like the Hollywood adaptations such as the movie “Taken.”

“A lot of times people misconstrue my situation with something out of a movie,” she said. “I wasn’t handcuffed to the radiator or furnace, but I was definitely mentally and emotionally handcuffed to the false promises he provided me.”

It wasn’t until years later that Marino escaped the man’s threats and emotional abuse.  Afterward, she overcame a drug addiction before becoming sober in 2007.

“It takes a lot longer for victims of human trafficking to put their life back together than people may think,” Marino said. “Think of domestic violence on steroids.  That gives you a pretty good idea of where these people are mentally if they ever make it out of a ring.”

After establishing a program in March 2017 to identify trafficking victims who come in contact with medical personnel, Northwell announced that it is increasing those efforts.

“Human trafficking is a social justice and human rights issue of our generation,” said Dr. Santhosh Paulus, creator of the first Northwell Health Human Trafficking Response Program. “We need a coordinated response to this issue across all disciplines to give voice to those who are exploited physically and financially.”

Since 2017, the program has identified nine victims, including six who were receptive to seeking help, according to health officials. 

Northwell has trained more than 3,000 employees to identify, triage and support victims of human trafficking in partnership with Restore NYC, an organization that seeks to end sex trafficking in New York and restore the mental and emotional state of survivors.

Another organization with the same motive is the Safe Center LI in Bethpage.  More than 500 youth and adult victims of human trafficking were served by the Safe Center in 2017, according to its website. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Long Island is among the top 20 human trafficking jurisdictions in the country.

Marino said she was grateful to have the opportunity to tell her story and touted the  resources available.

“There are so many great resources available for people who may feel trapped,” Marino said.  “Whether you are a victim or trying to monitor someone from becoming one, call a national or local outlet, and be proactive, compassionate and nonjudgmental.”

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Robert Pelaez

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