on Sep 5, 2017
KOLKATA, INDIA – From the outside, the place seemed to be just a quaint apartment, on a quiet street, in a normal neighbourhood in Kolkata. But the inside was far from normal: Teenage girls were being bought and sold for sex, and a team of sophisticated traffickers was making huge profits from their ongoing abuse.
This was the scene into which local police and IJM staff arrived on August 24, 2017. In a rescue operation to break up this sex trafficking ring, authorities rescued two teenage girls and arrested three suspected madams who had been exploiting them.
Just like the apartment, these madams had not appeared to be connected criminals. One was pregnant, and another was well-known in the community for giving loans to those in need. In reality, they were grooming and exploiting school-aged girls whenever a willing customer paid for sex with a minor.
The girls were given just 500 rupees (about 8 USD) per meeting, while the madams earned ten times as much.
Their secretive system of profit demonstrates the reality of a new wave of sex trafficking happening in private criminal networks.
Unlike the traditional red-light district, where commercial sex happens solely within a brothel’s walls, the private network conducts illegal activities in residential areas, hotels or massage parlours. The location forces traffickers to be more tactful and employ technology in moving girls around and coordinating with customers without raising the suspicion of the community.
IJM and local anti-trafficking police have been working to topple these sophisticated private networks for years, with increased attention in the last two or three years.
In this case, the police only had resources to send a small team to rescue the girls, but they were not dissuaded. Once the girls were confirmed to be present, police entered the apartment, arrested the three madams and brought the two victims to safety.
On-lookers swarmed the area—peering their heads inside the windows, curious to learn what the ruckus was about. A member of the neighbourhood council commented to an IJM staff member that she was shocked to learn what was happening within the apartment.
Police escorted the girls from the private residence to the station to give their statements, and then IJM brought them to the local hospital for a medical examination. The girls were placed in a short-term shelter and later moved to a government-run aftercare home where they can receive trauma-informed care.
The apartment where these girls and others were once sold now sits behind a police padlock—a bold warning to other criminals that they cannot hide their abuses for long.