All posts in “BRAVO Team”

India Community Unites to Give Weddings to Trafficking Survivors

Villages unite raise money for survivors' wedding

21 women in India’s sex trade just received a life-changing gift that could save them from a life of prostitution. These 21 women, many of whom had been forced into prostitution since childhood, were given a wedding.

A wedding may not seem like a completely life-changing gift to you or me, but for women in these rural villages in India, marriage can be an opportunity for freedom.

The women belong to two of the lowly or “untouchable” castes in India, where safety and status are often out of reach. In their villages, prostitution is the traditional trade for women. Girls are forced into the sex trade at a young age while their brothers often become their pimps. They are sold for sex along highways, or in brothels and bars in cities.

Marriage is rare and discouraged for these girls because they are not allowed to take clients once they are married. The women also face financial obstacles. Beyond the cost of the wedding itself, the community’s elders allow marriage only if a large dowry is paid to the village.

Women from two of these poor villages started petitioning their police and officials for permission to marry. According to The Exodus Road’s operatives, the women wanted to marry their boyfriends and leave the sex trade their families had forced them into. They were not only petitioning for the ability to marry; they were petitioning for escape from a life of sex slavery.

When the police looked into the women’s complaints, they found that 21 women in these two villages wanted to marry and leave prostitution. The police and officials agreed to marry the women and their partners in one group ceremony.

One of the 21 wedding couples at a group ceremony in India

The women’s villages in rural India came together to make it possible for their group wedding. Individuals, police, and government officials collected money for the event, which cost the equivalent of about $12,000. Police asked The Exodus Road to contribute to the fund.

Freedom. Love. Dignity. What a gift to give.

The community banded together to pay for the ceremony, which nearly 500 people attended. This unexpected demonstration of support and generosity gives The Exodus Road’s investigators hope for the future. They were honored to not only help make the ceremony possible, but also to attend the celebration.

“It was a special experience for our investigators to attend the wedding,” said The Exodus Road’s Country Director Sudir.* “This kind of good work needs to be done on a regular basis.”

The Exodus Road works to empower local communities to understand and fight human trafficking. By employing foreign nationals and building long-term relationships with local officials, we aim to not only rescue those who are currently enslaved, but also create sustainable freedom.

And on this day, as nearly two dozen brides looked toward a hopeful new future, we glimpsed that sustainable freedom. Tomorrow, we will return to searching the darkness. Today, we celebrate victory.

Nearly 500 people attended the wedding ceremony for 21 women wanting to leave the sex trade in India.

*Sudir is a representative name. Names of survivors and operatives are changed for their protection. Photos are from the actual celebration.

Sex Trafficking Survivor Escapes Brothel, Helps Rescue 4 More

Survivor escapes brothel, helps save four more trafficking victims

It was a Sunday night. Tanjia* had been in forced prostitution for three weeks after being trafficked from her home nearly 1,200 miles away.

She was forced to have sex with customers day and night, left with nothing but a plastic coin placed in her hand to tally the transactions. She had managed to contact an NGO for help. But as she waited for rescue, she was about to be moved again — the third brothel in three weeks.

Tanjia waited for an opportunity. When it came, she ran.

She called The Exodus Road’s country director Sudir,* who was planning a raid with his team and local police to rescue Tanjia the very next day. He got the call on a bus, hours away. He and his team got to the city where Tanjia was waiting for urgent help.

They asked police how to respond to her situation. Based on direction from police, our female social worker stayed with Tanjia in a hotel overnight until the team could take her to police to register a case.

Tanjia’s courage had to hold out. Police would need her testimony in order to raid the brothel, arrest the traffickers, and rescue any other victims they could find. She gave investigators the information they needed, and Sudir’s team conducted the raid with police that day.

In Operation FREEDOM RUN, our team helped arrest four traffickers and found four more victims in the brothel, who had been trafficked from Bangladesh. During the initial search, operatives were unable to find the victims. It wasn’t until they heard the sound of a baby crying that they were able to discover the small, hidden room where the four victims were being held. One of the girls was as young as 14 years old.

A High-Risk Operation

Although every raid can be dangerous, this operation was a special case. This brothel is owned by the most powerful brothel keeper in the area: a woman who owns more than 15 brothels, just in that area alone.

She and her husband regularly traffic girls from Bangladesh and other areas of India, and have been known to bribe police and NGOs to maintain their operations. According to our team, this brothel keeper has been operating for 10 years without being raided by police.

“We targeted the biggest brothel keepers who have bribed many NGOs and police officers,” Sudir said. He said the notoriety of the brothel keeper increases risk and need for precautionary measures.

Corrupt and dangerous operating environments require investigators to bring operational excellence to bear on each case. The Exodus Road’s Tactical Advisory Board gives guidance and accountability on rescue operation strategy, risk mitigation, and maintaining focus on victim protection.

Transitioning to Freedom

All of the survivors were taken to a government home for recovery and had to appear in court two days after their rescue. Sudir contacted Tanjia’s parents, who will soon bring her home to her three children, ages 3 to 10. Our team will continue to follow up and help with her legal process.

“The best part of this case is that Tanjia showed bravery to tell the truth,” Sudir said. “She trusted us and called us for help. Not only this, but she helped rescue four more victims and helped arrest four people.”

*Sudir and Tanjia are representative names. Tanjia means deliverance in Bengali, her language. Names of operatives and survivors are changed for their safety.

What can I do?

You may not be able to personally bring girls safely out of brothels, but you can still join us in rescue work. Learn more about Search & Rescue and how we help rescue the enslaved.

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