Andrew Cziok, 2LFreedom Firm
I’m well into my second week here at the office. The last two weeks have been eventful, to say the least. I had to move out of my apartment at the local YMCA (thankfully—it was a nice place, but much too expensive) and moved to a room in a guest house at the local seminary, which is about one third the price and much closer to the office. I can walk to work (until monsoon starts next week), which has been great. I get to see much more when I’m walking that I would miss cruising past in a rickshaw. I also save about two dollars a day this way, which may not seem like a lot, but given that I’m trying to keep my daily budget to US$11/day, it makes a big difference.
The office is incredible. It’s like being part of a big family. We take all of our meals together in what is basically the living room of the office, which is in a one bedroom apartment with 10-14 staff working in it. Legal work is really only one part of what Freedom Firm does here.We have a legal department (that’s Evan, the director, one staff attorney, and me, the intern), an aftercare department (which monitors girls that have been rescued, tracks them as they go through India’s social services network, counsels them, and prepares them to testify at trial), and an investigations department (who travel to red light districts to gather evidence and alert local police to brothels selling minor girls). All of these departments share an office, because the most important part of getting this work done right is having close communication with one another, sharing information, sharing burdens, sharing victory and sharing defeat. It’s heavy work, dealing with some very dark subjects, so a fair amount of our time is spent talking (usually over chai tea, which is all I want to drink for the rest of my life, if possible), sharing stories and decompressing.
Being a part of the office milieu here has really opened my eyes to how legal work is just one small part of what Freedom Firm does. Being a law student, I tend to look at The Law as some monolithic power that we use to summon the gods of Justice who will come down and intercede and make a right judgment that will restore everyone involved to their rightful place. Idealistic, I know. Coming from a Christian law school, I know that’s not how it works, I realize that we as attorneys only play a small role in the administration of justice, that it’s not on our shoulders to set the world right, and that no human power can ever really do that. However, I’d be lying if I said I never indulged in that fantasy, thinking that if only we do our legal work well, if we write the perfect brief, that we can somehow save the world. Luckily, my work here has forced me to re-evaluate exactly what I believe about how the world works. A guilty verdict can’t truly fix what’s been done to you. Putting traffickers in jail for selling children into the sex trade goes a long way in setting things right, mostly because it keeps harm from coming to more girls at the hands of these people, but the principal work here is in restoration. After a raid and a rescue, the team of social workers works with private and public social services to help the girls that have been rescued begin rebuilding their lives, and also prepares them for the eventuality that they will have to testify against their traffickers in open court. Like I said, while what we’re doing in the legal department is important, and indeed necessary, there is so much more work done behind the scenes, between hearings and investigations, that is crucial to restoring the lives that have been affected by these horrible crimes. We can build strong arguments atop solid evidence, but at the end of the day, it’s not the legal department that helps these girls find the courage to do what they have to do.
So, really, after reading all of the cases, background materials, witness statements, and descriptions of unspeakable crimes against humanity, that’s really what I’ve learned in my first week at Freedom Firm. I joined a team when I signed up for this work. I’m here not just so we can put traffickers in jail (because believe me, that’s what I’m looking forward to in the weeks to come) but also so girls who have had one of their most basic human rights taken from them can have the space and support they need to start the process of rebuilding their lives. I’m so grateful to be a part of it—it’s the whole reason I even wanted to be a lawyer in the first place.
– Andrew Cziok, 6/7/12