MUMBAI, INDIA – For the past seven years, IJM and other anti-trafficking organizations have been trying to rescue girls from one notorious brothel in a massive red-light district in Mumbai. Due to high levels of sophisticated crime in the area, these attempts have failed time and time again.
On September 5, 2013, IJM and local police went back to the brothel again, and this time, they were able to rescue six young women and arrest two suspected traffickers.
Bringing Light into Darkness
The day started out like many of the earlier rescue attempts: a small team of IJM staff briefed local police on the brothel where girls were trafficked and routinely raped for profit. Together, they developed a plan. Later that day, IJM social workers and lawyers accompanied police back to the brothel in a multi-story building to put the plan into action.
The rescue team walked through the dimly lit building to the third-floor brothel. The floor had been divided into several rooms—some residential spaces, others turned into "sex rooms." A family with young children lived in a 6-by-12 foot room; an old man lived in what was once a closet. In other tiny rooms, girls were forced to serve customers in spaces that barely fit a single bed.
There were more "sex rooms" in the building's attic space—which was actually just the crawl space between the roof and ceiling that had been divided by flimsy partitions. It was impossible to stand upright in these rooms; a customer would literally have to crawl to get inside. The rates of abuse were scrawled in chalk on a wall: 15 minutes--$7; 25 minutes--$14.
IJM social workers spoke to the girls inside, explaining what was happening and making sure they knew the police were here to help them. Many of the girls seemed dazed and confused—typical for survivors of such serious trauma.
But one young woman named Ami* vigorously motioned to the staff. The girl was living with a disability that had been exacerbated by the abuse she endured in the brothel, and she could not speak. She quickly gathered her few belongings, making it clear she never wanted to come back. Another young woman looked straight at an IJM staff member and pleaded: "Help me come out of this place."
First Night in Freedom
As some IJM staff stayed with the girls, others helped police search the entire floor. There were trapdoors in walls and in the ceiling, nooks and crannies where girls could be stashed away if police ever arrived. The filth was unbelievable—one IJM staff member said it was the worst he had ever seen, and another became physically sick at one point during the search.
Some of the young women were still confused by the prospect of freedom, but all left the brothel with the IJM social workers. They walked out of the literal darkness into sunlight. At the police station, the girls answered simple questions about their time in the brothel. The officers were extremely efficient.
That same night, IJM helped the survivors settle into an aftercare shelter where they went to sleep in freedom. Ami will get the medical care she needs, and the IJM will help assess the needs of all the young women in the coming days so they can move toward a new future, a brighter future.