The following blog post is an update from Regent Law Center for Global Justice intern Stockton Brown (pictured) on the work she did this past summer at Freedom Firm:
Rescue from the slave trade is only the first part of the recovery for victims of sex trafficking. From the point that the rescued girls reach the police station, they begin a somewhat tumultuous journey to recovery and reintegration into society. Part of that recovery includes acquiring a marketable skill such as jewelry making or textile working. Although not directly beneficial to the recovery of the girl, seeking justice on her behalf through the prosecution of the brothel owner is part of the process at Freedom Firm, an anti-human trafficking organization based in Ooty, India, which has a three pronged mission of Rescue, Restoration, and Justice.
As a recipient of the Center for Global Justice grant, I interned in the summer of 2015 in Freedom Firm’s office in Pune, India. During my second week, I attended court with Evan Henck, the director of the western region of Freedom Firm, as well as a 2007 Regent Law alum. We were bringing a petition before the court to request video conferencing for a victim of trafficking who had been rescued by Freedom Firm and repatriated to Bangladesh. Her name was Sita.* As a young trafficking survivor, Sita had already endured tremendous physical and emotional trauma. While testifying in court is essential for bringing a case against a brothel keeper, it is a difficult experience for the girls to recount their experience before the perpetrator and a room of strangers. That week, while in the rickshaw, Evan explained to me that our petition to the court, if granted, would prepare the way for girls who had been repatriated to their home countries to avoid the financial and emotional cost implicit in coming back to India to testify in court. Instead, if granted, the petition would allow the girls to remain in their home country and testify via video conferencing, thereby allowing them to testify without costly travel and emotional expense and without appearing in court before the brothel keeper.
When we arrived in the courtroom, we were met by the public prosecutor who read the petition and immediately signed it. Subsequently, the judge granted the petition, and what had been two years in the making became a reality. However, the next day we were not surprised to learn that the defense attorney had opposed the petition, arguing that it could not have been granted without hearing from him. Therefore, I began my research project for the summer — finding support in existing case law for video conferencing and the proper procedure that should be followed, if the petition should be granted. While video conferencing for a repatriated victim of trafficking was without precedent, video conferencing had been previously used in criminal cases for the defendants. Throughout my internship, I periodically met with the local advocate (attorney) affiliated with Freedom Firm, who representing Sita in her case.
In October of 2014, after argument from both Freedom Firm and the defense, the court granted the petition. However, it is now well into 2015, and the two governments of India and Bangladesh have yet to cooperate to facilitate the video conferencing for Sita’s case. We are thankful for the granting of this petition for video conferencing and praying for the day when Sita will be able to testify, bringing the brothel keeper to justice and bringing some degree of closure to this part of her past.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.