Eye witness account by Jennifer Vandermeuse, Freedom Firm USA Volunteer
Reflections on my trip to India: May 27 - June 6, 2014
I first learned about Freedom Firm while attending a Christian conference in Chicago. During a break, I saw a table displaying beautiful jewelry made by girls who had been victims of sex trafficking. A woman at the table explained that Freedom Firm was working in India to rescue girls and then help them gain access to safe housing, counseling, health care, education, and employment - all while bringing the perpetrators of trafficking to justice. The jewelry helped raise funds to keep the girls from returning to slavery. I was deeply inspired by Freedom Firm's mission, and within a few months, a friend and I organized a jewelry party where we could raise money and tell more people about these girls and the work Freedom Firm is doing in India.
I had a growing desire to learn more about trafficking and God's heart for justice, and this past spring, I got in touch with Freedom Firm's staff to see if it would be possible to visit their offices in India. They graciously agreed to host me, and I was soon on my way.
I spent the first part of my trip in Ooty, a hill town in south India, where Freedom Firm is headquartered. Freedom Firm's Ooty office runs a group aftercare home where rescued girls live and regularly meet with Freedom Firm's social workers, who ensure the girls' physical, spiritual, and emotional needs are met. Many of these girls are employed at Ruhamah Designs, Freedom Firm's jewelry-making enterprise. By making jewelry at the Ruhamah workshop, the girls learn a valuable craft, earn a living wage, and gain skills that will enable them to succeed in any workplace they encounter in the future.
While in Ooty, I spent time with three young women in Freedom Firm's aftercare program. One of them told me her story - where she grew up, how she was trafficked, and how her dreams and innocence were shattered. I was deeply moved, realizing that the horrors I had read about were real. But despite the unspeakable things these girls had to endure, there is hope. The girls are slowly learning to trust people and live whole lives again, thanks to God and the love, patience, and dedication of Freedom Firm's staff.
During the second part of my trip, I visited Pune, a city relatively close to Bombay with an active red-light district. Freedom Firm's Pune office focuses on identifying minor girls in brothels, working with law enforcement to rescue them, ensuring the girls are placed in a safe aftercare setting and then prosecuting the perpetrators. I met with Freedom Firm's lawyers, investigators, and social workers and learned about the extraordinary challenges faced at each stage of rescue and justice. Law enforcement does not always cooperate, and the legal system is slow and inconsistent. Yet, the staff doesn't give up. They are rescuing girls every month, and they continue to ensure brothel keepers are prosecuted. Each successful conviction raises the cost of trafficking, which discourages perpetrators from continuing the trade.
After spending time in two of Freedom Firm's offices, I understand how challenging it is to stop the deeply rooted, complex problem of sex trafficking in India. It is an uphill battle that can often be overwhelming. But organizations like Freedom Firm are making a real difference in the lives of these girls. I hope to continue raising awareness about this issue in the United States, and I now have the benefit of faces, stories, and concrete details to share with others. I am truly grateful to the Freedom Firm staff for their kindness toward me and for taking the time to teach me about the important work they do. I will never be the same again.