Enough Evidence to Convict?
On August 20th, our investigator heard about a minor girl available for customers in a lodge 50 miles from Ahmednagar, Maharashtra. The intervention team met the Superintendent of Police (SP) the next day to share the information with him. The SP directed the team to the head of the Anti Human-Trafficking Unit.
At around 5:30 pm, 10 police, 4 staff from the Freedom Firm team and two “third party” witnesses drove to the lodge and formed 2 teams. Freedom Firm’s undercover agent in the brothel confirmed the target girl was present, and shared the exact location of the room where she was held. One team covered the entrance, then rushed to search the four rooms on the first floor. They found the victim with a customer. The team also discovered another young woman in the restroom. Meanwhile, the second team covered the exit and searched the ground floor. They found the brothel keeper, brothel manager and a driver. All 3 were arrested.
Filing Criminal Charges
The police sealed the evidence they found at the lodge: 7 packets of condoms, 5 mobile phones, CCTV footage from the lodge and $50 (Rs 3,900) in cash. After the raid, everyone headed to the police station. Late into the night, the girls recorded their statement and police filed the girl’s complaints and documented the evidence.
Mounting Evidence Against the Brothel Manager
The brothel manager is no stranger to us. He is a habitual offender, a notorious criminal and the kingpin of several illegal activities. This is our third case against him. The first two times he was able to get out on bail. This time we hope that we have enough evidence to keep him in jail and that this case will eventually be tried in the Supreme Court. - Catherine Raja, National Director, Freedom Firm
No Rest for the Weary
During the long night at the police station, the social workers stayed close to the victims. They learned that both girls were from West Bengal. The perpetrators trafficked them over 1000 miles from their homes!
After taking the girls to the hospital for a medical check up, it was time to find them a safe place to stay. However, at this point, our team encountered their first major hurdle in the events of the day. The police inspector refused to send the girls to a home. Our team showed the inspector the high court order and standard operating procedures of the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act. He eventually relented and sent a request letter stating that both victims be admitted to a private shelter home. Our team spent the next 6 hours visiting 3 different shelter homes. Each home was established expressly to shelter victims of sex trafficking. Each home refused to allow the girls to stay.
I always think rescuing the girls is the hardest part. But surprisingly, all too often, there are major hurdles to overcome in the aftercare process as well. The people who are supposed to be the good guys and protect the girls, just don't. - Mala Malstead, Co-founder of Freedom Firm
Safe At Last
On August 22, 30 hours from the moment of rescue, it was finally time for the exhausted girls to appear in court. Our legal team explained to the judge the shocking lack of cooperation of the shelter homes. The judge ordered the girls to a shelter home in Pune, two and a half hours away. Currently, both victims are safe. Our team is working to prevent the 3 accused from getting out on bail. Social workers are preparing to travel to the girls’ homes in West Bengal to investigate family and neighbors. They hope to learn how the girls were trafficked and if returning home to live with their families is a safe option.