The following account was written by a member of staff following Riti's* rescue in Pune in June 2008.
I never know how long we will have with a girl after she is rescued. It could be months, years, or just days. When time is short, making a difference in her life seems an unlikely achievement. It's hard to earn trust: she's been kidnapped, trafficked, sold, abused, rescued, and then placed in a strange government home. I understand why it takes time for hope and trust to develop in these girls. I also know that a little love can go a long way.
Riti was rescued by Freedom Firm after less than one week in the brothel. Small, sad, and pretty, there was no question she was minor, perhaps 15. Our social workers rushed to her at the police station. With the Inspector of Police nearby, they tried to connect with her. Dressed in a salwar of beautiful red, she repeated lie after lie of how she had ended up in one of the busiest red-light areas in the country. They knew she was lying, but she couldn't bring herself to tell the truth.
Later in the evening, after the social workers had left, her story began to tumble out, prompted by the stern and fatherly Inspector of Police. She had been sent by her parents to visit her uncle and aunt in a neighboring city. An argument between them made her uneasy and angry, so she took off alone, anxious to get home. She boarded a train destined for her hometown, but before long, she was offered a drink, drugged, and taken to a brothel in Pune's red-light district.
The following morning, a team of us went to visit "our girls" in the Observation Home. We didn't expect any response from Riti, just as she had not responded to the social workers the night before. But we were there to try again, to convey love and comfort.
All of the Freedom Firm girls gathered around in a circle, comforting one girl about her family's vulnerable situation and talking to another about her future possibilities. The conversation was at first tragic, then funny, then light-hearted, then intense, and then all the same again as we rolled over various topics. All the while, Riti sat next to Rohi, the Freedom Firm counselor she met the night before. Her eyes wandered around the little group, with obvious curiosity, but she did not participate in the conversation. After some time, her beautiful, almond-shaped eyes could no hold themselves open, and she drifted to sleep on Rohi's shoulder. We chattered on with the others, but inwardly marveled at the display of trust so quickly grown. After the experience of one horrifying week, she found a restful space for her exhausted soul.
We returned to visit our rescued girls the next day, armed with activities. The girls flooded into the barren room to greet us. Before we began, Riti was awakened and told that we had come. She came running into the room, straight to Rohi, delighted to see us. The first activity involved flowers, which always draws the girls right in. We had an illustration: If God cares about us more than the flowers, and He so carefully clothes them, then how much more will he take care of us? The girls listened and we prayed that hope would continue to be planted in them.
Riti's family visited her the following day, 15 members in all! She was going home. It was such a rare case, a straight-forward and beautiful success.
In the end, we received the gift of 5 days with Riti. While it doesn't sound like much, I was struck by the thought of how lonely and dark those days could have been for her. Instead, the love and hope she experienced were exactly what she needed at a desperate time in her young life.
*name changed to protect identity