By Haley Vincent, youthSpark Intern
For the past two spring breaks I have had the amazing opportunity to go with my church, Peachtree Presbyterian, on a mission trip to Kolkata, India to work with girls in aftercare homes who were victims of sex trafficking. These girls are anywhere from 13 to 18 years old, and they way that they are trafficked as well as what they experience while trapped in sexual slavery is remarkably similar to the experiences of girls here in the United States. The girls are put in the aftercare homes to keep them safe and prevent re-entry, however many homes in India are too large with too few and improperly trained staff, and the girls end up in an environment that is nothing short of a jail. We were able to work with an aftercare home in Kolkata that provides quality care: the Mahima home. Mahima is a small Christian aftercare home with about 25 girls and around the same number of staff who are all certified therapists, so the girls receive professional therapy on a normal basis, as well as receiving support from all the staff members. We worked with girls in both the Mahima home and a larger home that is more typical of aftercare in India to give the girls one- on- one attention and let them know that there are people who care about them and want to spend time with them.
When we are with the girls, we make picture frames, string beads to make jewelry, decorate notebooks, and do their favorite thing—dance. The girls are all beautiful and charismatic dancers. They attempt to teach us traditional Indian dances, and they laugh loudly with us when we try to repeat the moves. I was fifteen on my first trip and sixteen on my second trip, so most of the girls are around my age, and dancing with them makes it so clear to me that they are normal teenage girls who love to laugh and joke around. Their resilience and ability to bounce back from the trauma they have faced always amazes me and reminds me that although sex trafficking is one of the most horrible evils in our world today and recovery is extremely difficult for its victims, it is possible.
Although we are faced with a language barrier and limited by the short amount of time we are able to spend at the homes, all members of our mission team were able to create special bonds with girls and even hear their stories. One girl shared through a translator that she was trapped in a brothel for several years of one of the most brutal brothel owners in Kolkata. The brother owner would beat, rape, and even murder the girls in front of each other to “break them in” to life at the brothel and break down them down emotionally to the point that even if they could physically run away, they have either no willpower to do so or have a crippling fear that stops them from attempting escape. The girl was finally rescued by a human rights organization, International Justice Mission, after over seven attempts to get her out of the brothel. The brothel owner was captured and sentenced to ten years of hard labor in prison, an unusually harsh sentence in India that sends a clear message to other brothel owners in the area. The girl smiled broadly after finishing the hard part of her story and shared that she now feels safe and loved in her new home at Mahima, and that she dreams of being a social worker when she grows up so she can help other girls. This girl is a great example of the fact that with the right kind of aftercare and support services, recovery is possible. Although both mission trips could be dark and heavy at points, we were able to hear many other stories of hope and see for ourselves the wonderful people that these girls are. After interacting with these victims I have never been more confident that the fight against trafficking is one hundred percent worth it, even if it only affects one girl.