7 Victims Rescued from Village Leader's Sex Racket
At 2 pm on the afternoon of August 23rd, the Anti Human Trafficking Unit, AHTU, Rural, Nagpur, and Freedom Firm rescued 7 victims from a shady bar 35 km from Nagpur. The AHTU arrested the 51-year old bar owner who also happens to be a member of the sarpanch (village leadership).
Roadside entrance to the brothel posing as a "bar & hotel"
On 22nd August while we were investigating a private location in Nagpur, we found a lead about a minor forced into prostituiton in a hotel about an hour away from Nagpur city. After verifying the lead, our team made the drive to the hotel. We saw the victim right away. Though the brothel owner said she was 18 years old, she looked around 15 years old and was extremely petite. Without wasting any time, we went to the Anti Human Trafficking Unit in rural Nagpur and presented them with the evidence. The rescue was planned for the next day, August 23rd.
On the 23rd, we met with the police at 1 pm and went through the rescue plan. Shortly after, we set out to rescue the forced minor from the brothel. The brothel posing as a hotel had five rooms and a restaurant and bar.
Below: A room inside the brothel
Above: the "hotel" entrance
At 2pm, the police, along with our team, raided the brothel. In addition to rescuing the minor, we found two other suspected minors and four forced majors in different rooms in the brothel. A 51 year old male brothel owner was arrested. The accused was also a member of the sarpanch (leadership committee in the village).
We quickly learned that the accused, though a high profile person, was wanted in connection with a murder and had other criminal charges against him. The police and our team escorted the victims and the accused to the station where a First Information Report was filed. Two news reporters came to the police station and collected information about the raid (the raid was featured the next day in several Indian newspapers.)
We were devastated by one minor girl's statement that the brothel keeper had forced her to sleep with more than 22 customers in just one and a half days. Most customers were above 50 years old. The brothel keeper charged each customer between Rs 1000 to Rs 5000 ($13-$65) for 20 minutes of forced sex with her. Man after man paid for forced sex with these powerless girls under the watch of the village leader.
The police collected evidence like used and unused condoms, a card swiping machine, a crude board stating, pay first, only 20 minutes, bank cheques, a warning letter from the police not to offer rooms to students, an expired letter of establishment (the license was issued from 2010-2011,) and a large knife. We saw a fire burning within the premises. A close inspection revealed a huge pile of condoms were being burned.
Sign reads "Pay First, Only 20 Minutes"
The next day the victims and the accused were presented in court. The police requested the judge to grant permission for an ossification (age verification) test for the three minor victims. After the court hearing, all seven victims were placed in a shelter home in Nagpur. The judge ordered the accused to remain in police custody. The victims will go to court on September 2nd to record their statement in front of a judge. Based on the evidence and statements, the judge will pass an order deciding whether the victims will stay in the shelter home or be released.
These 7 girls and young women have a long road ahead of them still, and the scars of what has been done may last. But we are thankful they now have opportunity for a better future. The Freedom Firm team will pursue justice against their captor, and we hope to see ripple effects of accountability
Rescued girls gather in a room during the raid throughout that community.