MUMBAI, INDIA, February 09, 2015
As IJM joined local authorities on their first rescue operation of the year, the team got a phone call that four traffickers in another 2010 sex trafficking case had been convicted.
A 2010 Sex Trafficking Case Finally Ends with Justice
The convictions handed down on January 12, 2015, closed a painful chapter in the lives of five women who had been trafficked and brutally beaten by the brothel keepers.
Two of the survivors had courageously chosen to testify in the case. While IJM supported them along the way, a huge factor in their confidence was the fact that their families embraced their story. The stigma around sex trafficking often burdens the victim, leaving her unable or too ashamed to tell her story. One young woman was pregnant with her second child and supported by her own mother when she traveled to the courthouse and took the witness stand.
Her motivation was strong: "I want to stop them from trafficking any more women like me.”
"It was very difficult for them to answer the questions, especially in the cross examination. They were very bold. Although they had tears in their eyes, they gave very bold and truthful answers,” recalls IJM attorney Renita. She and the IJM team assisted the Public Prosecutor and helped build up a strong case.
The ruling in January affirmed the courage of the survivors and reflected a clear-cut case of trafficking. Three brothel keepers and one trafficker were convicted and sentenced to between two and three years in prison. They were also ordered to pay damages to the survivors who testified.
Another Story of Freedom Begins
Just an hour and a half away from that courthouse, another story of freedom was just beginning.
Police were investigating one brothel where they believed a woman had been trafficked from Bangladesh. IJM had joined in providing assistance on the operation, and a small team drove to one of Asia’s largest red-light districts located in South Mumbai.
It was the fourth time in a year that IJM had helped police with an operation in the exact building—a three-story structure that houses at least 30 different brothels. The rescue team entered the building and quickly made their way up two flights of steep stairs and through a maze of dimly-lit brothels with tile walls.
Inside, they found the woman they had sought to rescue as well as two others who were desperate to leave. "They were so happy we had come,” said IJM social worker Sheela.
Leaving Behind Violence
Sheela and other IJM social workers sat with the women in one of the sex rooms while police arrested the suspects. The women described what had happened to them in soft whispers, still fearing what the brothel keepers would do if they overheard.
They said they were forced to see about seven to 10 customers a day. The day before the rescue, one woman saw 17 customers. When they refused, they were brutally beaten.
In another room, one of the brothel keepers was crying loudly. "The girls said, ‘Let her cry. She should cry for what she has done to us,’” Sheela remembered.
When it was finally time for the women to leave the brothel, they cried tears of joy. Sheela said, "When we told them to pack their belongings, they were so happy. They were hugging and kissing. They were saying ‘you are my mother, my sister’.”
"They were so excited to pack. They took their clothes and make up. One girl even offered to get everyone’s toothbrushes, but we assured her we would have toothbrushes for them,” Sheela said.
The women are now safe in an aftercare shelter for survivors of sex trafficking. Though the road to justice may be long, they will not walk it alone.