MUMBAI, INDIA – As IJM and police arrived, an auto rickshaw sped away from the lodge that was doubling as a brothel. The girls had been ordered to leave immediately, as the manager feared the rescue team that was on its way.
The rescue team was indeed looking for the girls – who they believed were victims of sex trafficking. The lodge was empty, but the search was far from over. A surveillance team started to follow the auto rickshaw, determined to find the girls.
The Thane City Anti-Human Trafficking Unit tracked the rickshaw into a dirty slum in a suburb of Mumbai. They arrived at a tiny shack, about 10 feet by 10 feet. There was no running water, no ventilation. Inside, they found 11 girls and women huddled together. This was not just the place the owners had tried to hide them; they would later tell police that this was their home, the place they were forced to return to after servicing customers at the nearby lodge.
The police led the young women back to the police station. The young women were terrified, but they slowly opened up to the IJM social workers who were there to reassure them and explain that they were safe. One of the girls told an IJM social worker that the pimp who would rent them out for sex had threatened her, telling her that if the police ever caught them, they would be beaten and thrown in jail.
One of the girls told an IJM social worker that the pimp who would rent them out for sex had threatened her, telling her that if the police ever caught them, they would be beaten and thrown in jail.
According to the survivors, the pimp used different methods to keep them enslaved. They were never allowed to leave the tiny shack alone, and a rickshaw shuttled them between the slum and the lodge where customers waited. One of the young women said the pimp told her that he was sending money back to her family, but he never provided proof that he was actually doing so.
It was the first time in several years that IJM had supported an operation in this region outside of Mumbai, and Field Office Director Sanjay Macwan explained: "Since the police and NGOs have been active in the traditional red light areas in in South Mumbai, the pimps have moved their operations elsewhere."
The Thane City anti-trafficking police worked late into the night, even though they had conducted another anti-trafficking operation the night before. IJM staff supported the police as they searched the premises and collected evidence from the lodge where the girls were allegedly raped. At the station, the police interviewed the survivors with sensitivity and professionalism. Senior Police Inspector Karkud Vikram Narayan led the operation and was supported by the Special Inspector General (Prevention of Atrocities Against Women) Shoba Ohatker.
Macwan added, "We are thankful that these eleven young women were brought out of that terrible place and that the police were so cooperative."
IJM will continue to support the survivors by providing crisis care and helping them settle into long-term aftercare homes.