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Changing the System: Responsible Rescue

“Government systems are not equipped to cope with large numbers of women and girls who come out of prostitution,” Greg Malstead, National Director, Freedom Firm.

Anti-trafficking work is catching on around the world.  Every new group is a spoke in the wheel of anti-slavery, and its momentum is growing. Many angles and approaches on the best way to solve the problem have emerged.  From efforts at “prevention” through community development, raising awareness in schools and villages, education, petition signing,  poverty alleviation programs, employment, rescue operations, legal aid for victims, and prosecution of perpetrators, the list seems endless.

And it's a good thing because the problem is huge. No really accurate statistics exist, and though research efforts are underway it will be several years before reliable numbers are generated.

With the rising tide of organizations fighting this battle, comes the inevitable pressure on NGOs to play the numbers game. In order to raise funds, organizations have to project their goals in numbers. These are numbers to prove that a certain amount of work is really being done by that organization. Organizations that conduct raids, like Freedom Firm, will show the number of raids per year and the number of girls rescued.  

Only a handful of other organizations in India actually conduct raids on brothels and rescue girls. There are some that seem to have a preference for doing “mass raids." While the large numbers of girls rescued look impressive, the quality of aftercare and the strength of the legal case is severely compromised by such an approach.

“Government systems are not equipped to cope with large numbers of women and girls who come out of prostitution,” says Greg Malstead, National Director of Freedom Firm. The welfare system (Department of Women and Child Development) does not have the infrastructure to provide food and accommodation for large numbers at a moment's notice.

When big groups of women are rescued it puts the local government into crisis mode. The rescued girls experience more hardship as a result. In some cities, like Allahabad, U.P. there is literally no shelter home for rescued girls, and they have to stay temporarily in the women’s police station. Although they have just been rescued, they face a negative reaction from government authorities since there are simply not enough resources to accommodate the girls. “As a result,” Greg explains, “the pressure to release girls without due process is much greater.”

From a legal perspective mass raids are also not a good strategy. Since most brothels are small in size and may just contain one brothel keeper and a couple of girls, mass raids tend to involve multiple brothels. In order to have strong cases, individual complaints should be made against every brothel and brothel-keeper involved.

However, in India, police tend to just lump all the brothels and victims together in just one criminal case. Since the crimes of individual brothel keepers are not matched to individual victims, the overall case is weakened. The result is that perpetrators are not held accountable for the crimes they have committed.

Ultimately, mass raids mean less protection for each girl and less accountability for perpetrators.  Freedom Firm is committed to doing rescue operations that focus on just one or two girls at a time, and just one or two brothel keepers. Girls are more likely to be protected for longer, and there is a greater chance that the perpetrators will be held accountable.  

In the long run, a few girls and a strong case will lead to greater systemic change than many girls rescued but unprotected and perpetrators not being held accountable.


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