Geetha hails from Bhallary in Karnataka state. Her father expired when she was just 13 years old, and she has 2 elder brothers, 2 elder sisters and 1 younger brother. All are married except her younger brother and sister. Geetha’s mother used to run a footpath Hotel and was the bread earner of the family. One day, Geetha fell in love with a married person and started having an affair with him. When her family members came to know of this, Geetha’s mother was furious and they had a huge fight. That night, Geetha ran away from home taking an amount of Rs 1000/-. Dishevelled and desperate, she arrived at a bus stand where she met a man who lured her in the name of a job and sold her to a brothel house owned by Laxmi aunty. Later she was sold to Mumbai Brothel house, where she was forced to work for 3 years as a prostitute.
Victims of sex trafficking are sold and resold over and over again in a continuous cycle of exploitation. Once a trafficked girl eventually succumbs to her circumstances within prostitution, she is closely watched and her movements and interactions are monitored and restricted. A constant struggle for existence in an exploitative structure of pimps, goondas and brothel-madams makes any escape attempt virtually impossible. Tricked into a hellish nightmare all because of their naive hopes and faith in humanity, these young girls become trapped in prostitution with no option of breaking free.
Until several years ago, even police raids were not effective in removing a victim from commercial sexual exploitation. Many law enforcement officials were either ignorant of laws such as the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) or were benefitting from prostitution through bribes and corruption. Also, due to general attitudes of society towards women in the flesh trade, instead of rescuing victims, police would criminalize them and lock them in jail. There have been many instances of police beating and raping victims as well. After all of this, the victims would become even more broken and would lose all semblance of hope in society or the justice system. After release from jail, owing to the absence of rehabilitative or restorative measures, many victims were sent back to the traffickers themselves and the vicious spiral would continue on, and on, and on.
For this reason, proper rescue and restoration of a victim is paramount to effectively fighting against human trafficking. After extensive analysis and understanding of the problem, Prajwala developed an intervention to break the cycle of exploitation and end the torment faced by victims of trafficking: the Rescue and Restoration Program (RRP).
The RRP team at Prajwala fulfils the four-fold objectives of undertaking rescue missions, providing crisis counseling at police stations, conducting home investigations, and supporting the judicial process. The team is comprised of a director, coordinators and barefoot counselors, many of whom are survivors of sex trafficking themselves. Having experienced the horrors of the flesh-trade first-hand, they are able to identify the movements and behavior of both traffickers and victims. They know the places that brothel keepers hide minor victims, and the deceptive excuses they use to deny access to them. In addition, while interacting with rescued girls, the barefoot counselors are able to empathize with their circumstances and tell their own story, which establishes a level of trust and credibility.
In addition to conducting rescues, there is a home investigation team which collects statements from family members and relatives to ensure that there is adequate safety and security in the home of the rescued victim if she chooses to return and live with them. Finally, the legal team is responsible for assisting judicial recourse through preparing the victim to appear in court and applying for state benefits such as housing and ration cards. The primary forms of legal support provided by the RRP team include helping the victim (and in some cases her family) to prepare statements in court, appear in court to present the case against the traffickers in front of the magistrate, and apply for government welfare benefits.
Since the beginning of this intervention in 1998, the RRP has made tremendous progress:
This year, the RRP team has also made groundbreaking results. For example, a total of 124 cases were booked against traffickers. Based on judicial recourse efforts, 288 traffickers were arrested and 253 victims were produced in court as primary witnesses. After observing and mapping brothel locations, 138 victims were rescued through Crisis Counseling Centers and 196 victims were rescued in collaboration with local police authorities. The RRP has also been active in filing cases against parents or guardians who have failed to keep their promises of not returning their daughters into prostitution at any cost. Now, if victims are caught by the police or RRP doing prostitution for the 2nd time, the guardians are now being sent to the magistrate for further punitive legal action.