MUMBAI, INDIA – Two and a half years ago, a brutal trafficker was convicted and sentenced to prison for running a brothel where girls were sold for sex. But after serving only a couple months of her six-year prison sentence, the trafficker was released from prison on bail.
Soon after she was released from prison, she appealed the sentence. A new series of hearings began. And the trafficker returned to the same red-light district – to start a new brothel. It was business as usual.
The fact that the trafficker was out on bail and operating a brothel again came as a shock to the IJM team who had worked so hard to see her held accountable for her abuse. It had been a strong case, and the IJM advocates had worked diligently to achieve the August 2010 conviction. There was plenty of evidence against the trafficker. Police and other witnesses testified to the fact that the trafficker had been profiting from the sale of girls like Rupali,* a teenager rescued in an IJM-assisted operation in 2008. Rupali also chose to speak out against her trafficker in court. When the trial ended, the judge sentenced the trafficker to two three-year terms in prison. Typically in India, those sentences must be served simultaneously instead of consecutively. But the judge made a precedent-setting ruling, requiring the convicted trafficker to serve both sentences, back to back.
So it was an affront to Rupali and everyone who cared about justice in the case when the trafficker was released early – and then returned to the very same red-light district, to earn profits from the very same trade.
The appeal case should have been a short process. Instead, it dragged on over the course of two years. Only five hearings were necessary, but due to many cancellations – often because the defense counsel refused to show up – more than 30 hearings had to be scheduled and re-scheduled. "It was very hard to persist through setbacks," said IJM lawyer Ottilia D'Souza, adding that the trafficker simply "had no regard for the law."
On Friday, January 11, 2013, the battle ended. The court's earlier ruling was upheld, and the trafficker's appeal for a reduced prison sentence was rejected. Immediately after the hearing, the trafficker was escorted back to prison.
"Securing justice for victims of sex trafficking is a long battle," IJM Mumbai Director Sanjay Macwan said, explaining how many trials last years, "It requires a great degree of persistence and relentless advocacy to see justice win out in the long run."