By Jeremy Grimaldi/Aurora Banner
When Jasmine left her home in Sault Ste. Marie for the University of Western Ontario in London, she had no idea where the next few years would take her.
The pretty, God-fearing blond teenager began studying medical science at the highly regarded institution.
But it didn’t take long until she began to worry more about the clothes on her back than anything going on in the classroom.
“I fell in love with luxury. I wanted UGG boots, Juicy Couture sweats, Tiffany jewelry, a Mercedes-Benz, Range Rover, Rolex Oyster watch, Mont Blanc pens … you name it, I yearned for it,” she said.
The search for more money and material items eventually led her to the door of London’s local strip joint, Solid Gold, where she began working as a waitress.
When it was closed, she looked elsewhere to keep the money flowing; she was eventually driving to work in Windsor on weekends.
After becoming acquainted with other strippers, she quickly became aware the money in Toronto was double the amount earned elsewhere.
“It was easy money. I was making $1,000 a night at the Toronto clubs,” said the York Region resident. “I worked everywhere in the GTA.”
The clubs included For Your Eyes Only, Brass Rail and the Landing Strip.
One night, weeks after stripping had become her full-time gig, a man she described as tall, dark and handsome offered to buy her a drink at her then-club, the Landing Strip, in Mississauga.
Not long after, the pair began dating.
“He used to buy me nice things and take me on dates and promised to buy me a condominium,” she said.
Despite believing her prayers for a stable relationship had been answered after the whirlwind love affair, she discovered her “boyfriend”, Joseph Bernadel, who she believes is still in York Region, was living a double life in Toronto.
“He was living with 10 girls at one time,” she said.
And although Jasmine knew his line of work from the get-go, Joseph had soothed any worries she had by telling her that even though he was working as a pimp, he was not like the others, but, instead, helping his “stable” of women to take care of their money, purchase homes and look after themselves and their dependants.
She admitted there were red flags, including his obsession with controlling her movements, such as always wanting to know who she was with, advising her when to shower and insisting she said ‘yes’ rather than ‘ya’ when in his presence.
Despite this behaviour, the couple continued dating and even introduced one another to their respective families.
However, it was when Joseph asked her to “look after” one of his girls things began to change.
“That girl ended up telling me everything: he was having sex with all these girls and treating us all the same,” she said.
Disgusted with the behaviour from a man she loved and trusted, she took decisive action.
“I moved to another place in Toronto,” she said.
However, he would not let it rest, following her home from work one night, only to savagely choke and threaten her life.
“He told me he would always find me and that I belonged to him,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d ever escape him.”
Within one year of that incident, the pair was engaged.
“He would always say I was his ‘main girl’ even though he would steal from me and beat me,” she said. “He was brainwashing me, telling me I was different than the other girls and that he didn’t want me prostituting myself.”
Meanwhile, the lies and the cheating continued.
That’s when Jasmine decided to get “even” by starting to sleep with men for money.
She was charging $1,000 for sex, $500 for oral and $1,000 for an hour of her company, with strip joints usually taking a 15-per-cent cut, she said.
That’s when the real money started rolling in and Jasmine started making $3,000 on many nights, $10,000 per week.
Some nights, she would pull in even more, once making as much as $50,000 within a matter of hours.
Jasmine said the money was almost impossible to ignore in an industry where money is all that really matters.
“I don’t know a single girl who dances and hasn’t done extras for money. Pretty much everyone has sex for money,” she said.
However, when Joseph found out, the relationship changed.
“He said to me, ‘Now you’re a ho, I’m going to start treating you like one’,” she said.
It was after this comment he began to inflict a much harsher form of torture, through sexual violence and beatings.
“The beat-ups began with a firm grasp on the arm and gradually turned into severe attacks, ending in broken ribs, broken noses and barely being able to move,” she added.
When he became particularly outraged with her behaviour, he would take all her money.
She pegged the amount of money she made over three years at $300,000, however, in the end, she was only left with $60,000.
Most of it went to frivolous expenditures, such as handbags, clothes and buying her man a $20,000 Rolex.
Luckily, some of it also went to paying off her university degree, which she hasn’t yet completed.
As their relationship grew ever rockier, he did the unthinkable.
“He forced me to get pregnant because he knew I was thinking about leaving,” she said.
After an incident in which Joseph argued with her brother, who was attempting to protect her honour, she eventually had what cops called her “cry out” point and decided it was time to go to the police.
Soon after getting in touch with Det.-Const. Thai Truong from York Regional Police’s VICE unit, Joseph was charged and convicted of sex assault, assault causing bodily harm and living off the avails of prostitution and sentenced to two years in jail, of which he served 21 months.
In the subsequent months and after giving birth and gaining full custody of a three-year-old, Jasmine made some important discoveries about the trade, namely: that each prostitute and stripper is someone’s daughter.
Since then, the idea of respect for women has played a big role in the rearing of her new family, which also includes another child and her new husband, whom she calls the man of her dreams.
“I am now a devout Christian,” she said. “I’m a wife to the most wonderful man in the world. I’m a proud stay-at-home mother of two beautiful girls.”
Since leaving the game, she has also joined up with Natasha Falle, founder of SEXTRADE 101, which advocates against sex work and human trafficking while providing educational programs for police forces around North American and the RCMP.
“I am not ashamed of my past. I use my testimony for the good of others — to help young women such as myself get out of the business and break free from their traffickers, she said.
Her views on prostitution have also since evolved, now advocating Canada should adopt what she calls a Nordic model in the fight against human trafficking — focusing more on charging johns and pushing for stronger penalties against pimps.
York Regional Police have not yet adopted this sort of approach, however, in 2008, they began taking a different and softer tact, targeting pimps and the traffickers instead of the prostitutes that police forces around the country have been targeting for decades.
The attention they pay to the prostitutes is more on the caring side, constantly communicating with the girls in hopes of extracting them from the game while encouraging them to face their demons, by testifying against their tormenters in court.
Over the past five years, Det.-Const. Truong says his department has been witnessing a rise in the number of advertisements for sex online in York Region.
“I think it’s doubled in York Region alone,” he said.
With the increase in advertisements, the VICE squad, too, has been working double time to try and catch the traffickers they believe are responsible. Since taking the new tact, the unit has made 400 arrests, laid more than 400 charges and convicted more than 70 per cent of those charged, Det. Const. Truong estimated.