Updated: The Rescued Becomes The Rescuer
On April 20, 2016, a court in Mumbai found two traffickers guilty in an iconic IJM case dating back to 2013. The judge sentenced them to prison and ordered they pay a hefty fine to their victims, and ordered their brothel officially closed.
The convictions are a momentous win for Zeenat,* a young woman rescued from trafficking at this brothel in 2013. After being rescued from near-constant abuse under the brothel owner's control, she bravely volunteered to go back to the red-light district to help IJM and police rescue other girls trapped like her. Her courage brought freedom to four other victims – and has inspired thousands in the fight against trafficking worldwide.
She told us, “I was in so much pain a few years back but now my life has changed, and now I want those other girls lives to be changed.”
Read the original rescue story from 2013 below.
Last month, IJM Mumbai helped police rescue Zeenat* from a dark brothel with barred windows. Six cots filled the cramped room where girls were serially raped, side by side. The brothel’s customers paid less than $5 to have sex with a girl.
When the rescue team of IJM staff and police entered the brothel, they discovered that two of the girls they had hoped to find were missing. Apparently they had been transferred to another brothel outside Mumbai just a day or two earlier.
After several days of searching, IJM got a lead that led to their new location. We worked quickly with police to plan another rescue operation. But our attempts were thwarted when the brothel keeper moved the girls yet again.
Just a few days after that failed attempt to rescue the two missing girls, IJM staff and police went back to the red-light district where Zeenat and the girls had originally been trapped. This time, the team was searching for a brothel keeper who was suspected of trafficking and selling minor girls for sex. Zeenat had once been trapped in her brothel.
Zeenat wanted to go back to the red-light district, this time safeguarded by police and IJM staff she trusted.
She was determined to help IJM and police find this other brothel keeper who had once caused her deep suffering. Although it was broad daylight, she was not sure of her surroundings. Zeenat said she had never been allowed to leave the brothel.
As Zeenat led the way down one street, she pointed out one woman who seemed familiar. An IJM social worker started to follow the woman down a tiny lane. As she walked, the social worker passed an open doorway, and inside she saw one of the two missing girls. The social worker quickly called the police and other IJM staff. They had to act now if they wanted to free these girls.
The rescue team entered the building and police moved quickly to arrest the brothel keeper. Four other girls were inside – including the two who had been transferred from brothel to brothel. As IJM staff explained that they were there to rescue the girls, Zeenat boldly affirmed that she was free because IJM had rescued her, too.
Rescue At Last
Lila, the IJM Mumbai social worker who was present for the rescue operation, said the brothel was one of “the most terrible places” she had ever seen.
Customers could pay less than $3 for 15 minutes with a girl. The girls later said that between the four of them, they were forced to have sex with up to 100 men a day.
Often, girls who have been trafficked are afraid to leave the brothel. They are not sure who to trust after so much betrayal and abuse. The girls are coached to lie if ever the police show up, and they are usually too intimidated to speak the truth when a brothel manager is present.
But Lila noticed how these girls were different; they were desperate to get out: “When I told them we were here to rescue them, they immediately packed their bags and were ready to leave.” She added, “I really believe that it was part of some sort of divine plan that I was there at that time and I spotted the girls and we were able to rescue them from such a terrible place, one like I have never seen before.”
IJM staff accompanied all of the young women back to the police station. At the station, the girls started to open up and share their stories. One of the girls said she had tried to run away twice. Both times she was caught.
After several hours of processing at the police station, the girls went to an aftercare home. One of the IJM staff members said that the girls hardly seemed tired – “because of excitement, they couldn’t even fall asleep. They wanted to enjoy every bit of their freedom.”
*A pseudonym has been used for the protection of this IJM client. This story was originally shared in March 2013.
International Justice Mission is the world’s largest international anti-slavery organization, working to end modern-day slavery, human trafficking and other forms of violence against the poor by rescuing and restoring victims, restraining perpetrators, and transforming broken public justice systems. Learn more at www.ijm.org.