She was 16 years old and sitting in a bar when she saw him for the first time — tall, dark and handsome.
He was nearly twice her age, but he complimented her eyes and put her at ease.
Nobody had ever spoken to her like that before.
Mel Muise had no idea this man was keen on forcing her into the sex trade.
“I'm telling my story because I think it's important for people to know that this happens here [and] how easy it can happen here,” she told CBC News in an interview earlier this month.
She doesn't speak his name. He doesn't own her story. Not anymore.
'I really thought that he had loved me and cared about me.' - Mel Muise
She was just a teenager when she began running from problems at home and hanging around in places a 15-year-old doesn’t belong.
The last time she ran from home, she never went back. She landed at the Naomi Centre, a safe place for women in St. John’s.
After meeting the man in the bar that night, they developed a relationship. She felt safer than ever before.
“I really thought that he loved me and cared about me,” she said. “He brought me nice places, bought me nice things, made me feel really, really special. Which is something I don't think I'd felt until then.
“I think that's what kinda everybody wants to feel in life. So all the things that had been missing from my life, he filled in.”
She didn’t realize it at the time, but she was being groomed. She began speaking less to her friends and family, spending all her time with her new boyfriend.
“Any kind of positive support I had in my life, he was slowly alienating me from them without me knowing.”
She believed he was the only one who had her best interests at heart. The only person in the world who truly cared about her.
And then the day came when he showed her who he really was.
“We were out for a drive, we were getting further and further away from St. John's,” she recalled.
After pulling off the road and behind a house, he began explaining how he had bills coming up. He told her he was worried about money, and since he had spent so much on her, maybe she could do something to help him.
There is a man in the house, he told her. Maybe you could go in there and just do what he says.
It won’t take long.
Nobody will ever know.
And you’ll get money to help out.
“When I thought about things like that I always thought about the women who were down on the street, I never thought that could be me or someone like me doing that,” she now says.
Over several minutes of conversation, he persuaded her.
“So I went into this man's house and did what he wanted and came out with the money.”
She felt a sense of relief — it was over, she had gotten money to help her boyfriend and she never had to do this again.
Or so she thought.
“After that, it slowly progressed into more visits to houses or parties,” she said.
The man she thought was her boyfriend was soon advertising in the newspaper, she said, as other girls became involved and Muise eventually “graduated to the street.”
'I learned that drugs were a really good escape from my reality.' - Mel Muise
Their relationship also evolved to become abusive.
“The physical abuse didn't start until I started to say no,” she remembers. “I was in hospital several different times with different injuries. Sometimes it would be bad where I couldn't go out for a few days.”
She found ways to cope with what was happening to her, although they weren’t healthy outlets for the mental anguish and physical beatings.
“The relationship I had with drugs was probably not different from a lot of other people that start using drugs at a young age,” Muise said. “I learned that drugs were a really good escape from my reality.”
Her habit started recreationally, but as he began forcing her to do more and more things against her will, she began using more to deal with the trauma.
“It got to the point where you get up in the morning and you have to use drugs to do what you have to do to make the money to get the drugs you have to use,” she said. “So you get in a vicious cycle.”
Eventually, the nightmare ended.
It was a long road, but she worked hard to become clean and sober and was determined not to let his actions continue to control her life.
She has dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder and been through therapy.
Muise has a message for the general public, to all the people who walked past her and girls like her.
“I want to say that I was there. That I wasn't invisible. And that you should have paid attention to me. You should have asked if I was okay. You should have wanted to know why a 16 year old was stood on the street. 'Cause I could tell by people’s looks that they knew why I was there.”
She found strength in telling her story and felt it was something she was meant to do.
Today, Mel Muise works as a support specialist with the Coalition Against the Sexual Exploitation of Youth. She helps get young people off the streets and out of the sex trade.
As part of her job, she tells her story in schools and through community groups to let people know the signs and to let them know that life moves on.
Muise is in a long-term relationship and enjoys as much quiet time with her partner and her dog as possible — a far cry from the chaos of her earlier years.
"My life today, I think, in comparison to what it was at some times is probably pretty boring to some people," she laughed.
"It's structured, it's relaxed. It's good today."
Muise also has a message for people still stuck in situations like she was.
“There is a way out. There is a way to heal and there is a way to come out the other side of this still intact.”