MUMBAI, INDIA – Two brothel keepers were convicted this week in a special court set up for human trafficking cases in Mumbai. The judge sentenced each trafficker to three years in prison and ordered the brothel permanently closed.
According to IJM Mumbai Director of Legal Michelle Mendonca, this "two-pronged approach of awarding both a conviction and a brothel closure not only provides justice to the victim, but also helps ensure that the premises will not be used to exploit other victims."
Rescue and Restoration
IJM helped police rescue two young women from this brothel in January 2011. Both survivors had daughters under 5 years old that had been living with them at the brothel. IJM helped them get into aftercare homes that could provide the holistic support they needed. One survivor was HIV-positive and has been able to learn how to manage treatment and build a healthy life.
The brothel keepers are sisters, and the brothel was a lucrative business. The young women were held against their will, forced to have sex with the brothel's customers, and physically assaulted by the managers. One of the survivors chose to participate in the trial; IJM lawyer Ruth Thomas said her testimony was "strong and unshaken," and became critical evidence in the case.
Though the trial took three years, Ruth commended the dedicated commitment that resulted in a just conclusion. The judge was sensitive to the unique needs of the survivor when she testified as a witness—unfortunately, this kind of victim-sensitivity is not the norm in many courtrooms. The prosecutor assigned to the case was also particularly attentive and worked closely with IJM to ensure the best evidence to satisfy the law's requirements was presented.
Experts estimate it would take 320 years to clear the massive backlog of cases in the Indian court system.
The police officers who testified as witnesses were eager to participate; as Ruth said, "They are so burdened but they made time and followed up." She recalled one time that an officer had to miss a hearing, and instead sent an official notice to the court with relevant documents. Usually, when a witness can't make it to a hearing, the proceedings grind to a halt and must be rescheduled. This slows the trial, which is already struggling through an Indian court system that is so overwhelmed by pending cases, experts estimate it would take 320 years to clear the backlog. Thanks to this police officer going above the standard call to duty and sending in the right documents, the hearing was able to proceed on schedule. Small efforts like this one kept the case moving forward, instead of getting caught in the backlog of rescheduled hearings and endlessly delayed trials.
On February 3, the trial ended with convictions for both traffickers; they were found guilty of several trafficking charges under India's anti-trafficking law. They were each fined and sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment. As IJM's Michelle Mendonca noted, the convictions were underscored by the judge's order to close the brothel, a strong sign that the court is serious about ending human trafficking.