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SC Woman Devotes Life To Saving Sex Trafficking Victims. She Isn’t Always Successful

Rose, which is not her real name, first smoked meth at 13, and her drug addiction began the following year, she told reporters in a recent interview.

She had been a victim of sex trafficking for several years by the time Messick first visited her in jail. And now she serves as a reminder that Messick can only do so much.

"I love her like a daughter," she said of Rose. "To see what she threw away made it really, really difficult for me."

'I really just didn't care anymore' Rose spent her 17th birthday locked in a basement in Philadelphia. For 12 days, she endured all kinds of abuse.

Men paid cash for the opportunity to rape her, but she doesn't remember how many. They took videos of her, put out cigarettes on her nude body and laughed as she screamed and cried.

The story of how Rose wound up 600 miles away from her home in Greer involves love and betrayal, sex and drugs -- and more money than she had ever seen in her life.

Rose, who is now 21, said her very first memory starts at 4 years old, when she held her battered mother in a pool of her own blood as she lay passed out on the floor. Her father had just smashed her mother's head into the wall and left.

With a lifetime of trauma, Rose turned to drugs. She quit school at 15 and ran away from home. A year later, she took a trip to Philadelphia with some friends, but was left behind after an argument.

Stranded, addicted to heroin and nowhere else to go, she decided to stay a few nights with a man she met in the city. She always had trouble with men, she admits.

He was in his 40s and seemed nice enough, she said. Plus, he was a drug dealer who could supply any kind of fix she needed. He dealt only in cash and carried it in stacks, she said.

"Never in my life have I seen that much money," she said.

Drugs and cash were flowing. Beautiful women were always around. His life was a constant party. She was a naïve 16-year-old girl and, in a way, it felt glamorous, she said.

But then she was introduced to crack. And after about a week, she began to see the dark side of this lifestyle -- dope-sick women piled up on the floor outside this man's door, waiting for their next hit of heroin.

The drug was the only thing standing between them and their ability to get up and start earning back the money they owed him.

She knew if she tried to leave, the consequences would be severe. But she tried anyway, and with nowhere to go, she didn't get far. The man paid a few crack addicts to track her down and bring her back, she said.

He beat and raped her, she said. He threw her into the basement and locked the door, and charged other men to go down and rape her as well.

She was only able to escape when one of her captors passed out on heroin and left a cellphone nearby, she said. She quickly grabbed it and punched in her grandmother's phone number. Police arrived soon after and freed Rose from the basement. Rose's story was verified by Messick, who spoke with an FBI agent to confirm the details.

But that was really the start of her troubles.

"After that happened," she said, "I really just didn't care anymore."

'I hope to find purpose for my life' Rose came back home to South Carolina and fell back into the lifestyle. She was hooked on heroin, stayed in a different hotel room every night and sold her body to pay off drug dealers.

"There are so many guys who don't want to sell drugs anymore. You run out of drugs. If you have girls, they're not going to run out of vagina," she said. "Every day, all day, that's what my life became."

That was until she was indicted on drug trafficking charges. One of her drug dealers used her as a mule, she said, forcing her to transport drugs and take the fall if caught. Facing years in prison, she was ready to accept Messick's help.

Messick advocated for Rose in court, and a judge ordered Rose to complete the two-year program at Jasmine Road in exchange for leniency in her criminal case, Messick said.

"In my history of doing this, I have never seen someone so well treated by the criminal justice system," Messick said. "They made special accommodations for her. They created a pathway for her to get the help she needed."

But that still wasn't enough.

After about a year of treatment and six months at Jasmine Road, Rose met a man in another drug recovery group. They developed a relationship, Messick said, and Rose left Jasmine Road in the middle of the night to run away with him, becoming a fugitive overnight.

About a week later, Messick received a letter from Rose in jail. She apologized for leaving. She feared what her future held. And she told Messick she loved her.

"No one should have to go through what that child has been through," Messick said. "It broke my heart for her that she would make such a spur-of-the-moment, stupid decision based on a whim or impulse that completely changed the trajectory of her life."

Messick knows there's only so much she can do.

"I would never try to convince someone of the right thing to do," she said. "I just try to understand the pain they have been through and give them options. It's so important that you give these women options because they've never had any choices -- everyone has made choices for them."

Five other women have chosen to start over at Jasmine Road. Therapy has given them a new perspective on the trauma they've endured. Counseling has given them a better understanding of how drugs played a role in that trauma. Even the little things, such as yoga, are giving them a new lease on life.

Some women of Jasmine Road hope to graduate and begin working as staff members.

"I'm going back to school for human services. I want to help people who are like me," Andrea said. "I hope to find purpose for my life. To find a career that I love and is meaningful. Something that, when I get home at night, I'm glad that I did."

The goal is to open four more houses like Jasmine road in the next four years. And Messick won't give up.

"It's really important for me to bring this message to women that, 'I'm no different than you, and together we can continue on this journey and heal together,'" she said. "Every time they heal, I heal a little bit more."

About Jasmine Road Funded by community donations and grants from donors, Jasmine Road is a two-year residential program in Greenville for adult women who have survived sex trafficking.

Up to five survivors live in a three bedroom/two bathroom house in a safe location with a protected address. There, the women focus on healing without distractions, knowing they will be safe. The goal is to open four more houses, serving 25 women, by 2022.

The program works in three phases: -- Phase one covers the first six months and focuses on trauma therapy, drug and alcohol recovery groups and grief counseling. -- Phase two covers the second six months and comes with more privileges. Women are allowed cellphones and overnight passes. They can start looking for jobs and attend school. This gives them more structure. -- Phase three covers the final year of the program. This time is spent developing financial literacy and job skills, gaining independence and planning for the future.

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