Natasha interned at Freedom Firm, a non-profit organization that works to combat sex trafficking in India by rescuing minor girls who have been sold into the commercial sex trade, restoring their identities, and seeking justice against those who perpetrate these crimes.
At 6:45 a.m. on Friday morning, Freedom Firm’s Puneteam made a multiple-hour journey to a nearby city. The day before, Freedom Firm investigators called alerting the Pune team that they spotted potentially minor girls at a brothel in Topsham*. We were worried because we were told that the Superintendent of Police (“S.P.”) of Romansleigh*—the main district of the region where the target was located— was completely corrupt, and we needed his permission and cooperation to be able to conduct a successful raid. I wrestled in prayer as we drove to Topsham, the town where the raid would take place.
Upon arrival in Topsham, we drove to the local police station to meet the Freedom Firm investigators. In order to drive through the red light area without raising suspicion, Evan Henck—Regent Law alum and Regional Director of Freedom Firm—got out of the car; and I wrapped my head with a scarf so that I could blend in. Two of the investigators got into the car so that they could point out the target brothel. We drove through the red light district, which was a tiny slum located right next to a residential area filled with beautiful homes. All of the team members familiarized themselves with the location, and then we headed back to the local police station to pick up Evan.
The next stop was the Romansleigh Police Station. Freedom Firm chose to not involve the local police because the local police were likely to have a connection with the brothel keepers and would have warned them. We arrived at the Romansleigh Police Station and waited for three hours to be seen by the S.P. As the time went on, our patience wore thin and our hope slowly slipped away, but our prayers increased. We were called into the S.P.’s office and the Freedom Firm team explained why we were there. The S.P. picked up the phone and directed the Inspector of Police (“P.I.”) to help us with whatever we needed. The S.P. did not ask for proof of who we were or for evidence that there were minor girls working at the brothel; he simply took our word for it. We headed over to the Crime Branch and discussed a plan with the P.I., who then assigned a plain-clothed team to accompany Freedom Firm on the raid. We divided into two vehicles: one marked and one unmarked. Evan and I rode along with some of the police officers in their marked police vehicle. The unmarked vehicle drove ahead of us. As we turned into the Topsham red light area we noticed that the unmarked vehicle was headed toward us and that the Freedom Firm team and police officers had already disembarked. Those of us in the marked police vehicle jumped out and ran towards the brothel. The team managed to capture the two brothel keepers and six of the sex workers. Unfortunately, one of the three suspected minors managed to escape, and because of the rain and mud it was difficult to catch her. During the raid a pregnant female officer slipped and fell. We rushed her to the emergency room. I sat on the edge of my seat praying that her baby was okay. About an hour later we were told that the officer had fractured her arm and the baby was perfectly fine. Upon hearing the good news, we headed to the local police station to meet up with the rest of the Freedom Firm team.
Over the next few hours the girls were processed and charges were filed against the brothel keepers. I was able to sit in on the interview of the minor girls conducted by Shital, the Freedom Firm social worker. During the interviews the two girls revealed very little. However, we did come to learn that one girl had only completed the third grade in school, whereas the other had never even gone to school.
Restoration: Life in Government Homes
Yesterday, I accompanied Shital to a nearby government home where she visits rescued women and girls. Each level of the government home is sealed off by a lock to prevent the residents from running away and outsiders from entering and kidnapping the residents. The residents at this home come from all over India and some have babies or very young children. Freedom Firm sends a social worker for a few hours each day to teach literacy and hobby classes to the residents. While at the home, Shital and I worked teaching the residents how to pronounce the letters of the English alphabet.
On Wednesday, Evan, Shital, and I took a trip back to Topsham. The purpose of the trip was to confirm that the rescued girls were placed in a government home and to find out the trial date for the brothel keepers. We were only able to see the girls for a few minutes. Though the time spent with the girls was short, the purpose of the visit was to reassure the girls that they were not alone. I will never forget the smile and the gleam of hope that I saw in one of the girl’s eyes when she saw us.
Please keep the rescued girls and Freedom Firm in your prayers.
*The names of the cities have been changed
Pune is the City where the Freedom Firm office at which Natasha interned is located.