MUMBAI, INDIA – "You have come alongside us rescued girls, and most importantly, you have helped us fulfill our dreams." The young woman who spoke confidently stood before 34 police officers in uniform. The officers were gathered for an IJM-led training on the law and procedures for cases of commercial sexual exploitation.
Last year, this young woman was rescued from a brothel in an operation by local police and IJM. She continued: "Today, I speak on behalf of the girls who are still in darkness and long for justice, and who wish to come out. They are waiting expectantly for you. On behalf of the pleas of these girls, I implore you to rescue them—and to rescue them quickly." After her speech, the brave survivor presented framed cards to the highest-ranking officer. These cards were created by other trafficking survivors on behalf of IJM Mumbai and the hundreds of girls who have been rescued by the Mumbai police during IJM's decade of work in the city.
Police commissioners, inspectors and officers from six police stations attended the comprehensive training, which was developed by IJM Mumbai in response to a direct request from the Additional Commissioner of Police. In the training, IJM staff explained the anti-trafficking law and discussed how to investigate cases of commercial sexual exploitation, how to conduct interviews with victims of trauma and how to support trafficking survivors post-rescue as they navigate through the legal system and the complex repatriation process.
"The law already treats victims of commercial sexual exploitation as victims, not offenders," said Michelle Mendonca, Director of Legal. "We all need to transfer the word of the law into a reality on the ground."
At one point during the day, the IJM Mumbai staff showed contrasting images of several IJM clients, from inside the brothel before their rescue and the same girls after, enjoying life in freedom. "We are proud to rescue these victim girls, and stories like the one we heard from [the girl who spoke to us today] give us hope," said one Special Police Investigator. "We want to be on her side."
"Today, I speak on behalf of the girls who are still in darkness and long for justice, and who wish to come out. They are waiting expectantly for you."
— Trafficking Survivor to Mumbai Police
Another officer said the training had shifted his perception of the girls and women who are exploited in the commercial sex industry: "Now, I see their stories from their point of view, and I realize that I must change my attitude towards them."
The training included open dialogue, during which the police were able to voice concerns and frustrations they face when investigating and combatting cases of sex trafficking. "Our work is about transforming a life—for IJM, the police and everyone else who is involved," said Melissa Walavalkar, acting Director of Aftercare. "A girl trapped in a brothel is like a bird in a cage: once you free her, she is able to fly and enjoy life in its entirety."
The very next day, IJM worked with several police officers who attended the training to rescue a young woman who had been trafficked and forced to prostitute. The officers demonstrated an increased sensitivity and professionalism towards the survivor as they collected information about the case.
"The leadership at this station knew exactly what to do and were very assertive and cooperative in this rescue operation," IJM Mumbai's Director Sanjay Macwan stated. "We believe that the training that we provided yesterday in proper legal procedures and the importance of victim sensitivity in cases of commercial sexual exploitation has already reaped many benefits."