*In 2013, with your help and your donations, Freedom 4/24 financially partnered with Freedom Firm funding a grant request to open a new field office in an undisclosed city in India** to combat the city’s rampant and long-standing problem of trafficking and prostituting minor children in the city’s red light district.
In the first few days of 2014 a four-person team from Freedom 4/24 visited with Freedom Firm and spent two days in this city. During this visit I was privileged to observe a brothel raid from start to finish. Below is Part 1 of my first-hand account.
After a restless night’s sleep on an overnight train from Mumbai we reached our destination.
Though exhausted from the previous night’s constant rocking back and forth of the train, I was energized and excited to finally arrive**–ready to get to work.
Shortly after arriving, we met most of the Freedom Firm team. By late afternoon the entire team was assembled. We had all come for a single purpose: to rescue Molly.
A month earlier, the investigative team had first seen Molly in the city’s red light district. She was young, estimated to be 11 to 13 years old. Freedom Firm requested local police to rescue her at that time but after days of waiting and being told “tomorrow” the writing on the wall was clear–there wouldn’t be an attempt to rescue Molly then.
Members of the Freedom 4/24 and Freedom Firm team review investigative footage
After the full team arrived, two investigators from the team went undercover to confirm that Molly was still in the red light district. She was. At this news, the excitement level of the team rose. Later that night over dinner the team discussed strategy and the best way to approach the local police commissioner without whose approval there would be no raid. All our hopes of rescuing Molly hinged on this man’s approval.
The next morning, I jumped into a rickshaw with Greg, Freedom Firm’s founder, and Mincy, lead social worker on this operation. A few minutes after arriving at the police headquarters we were ushered into the Commissioner’s office. Following a few pleasantries, Mincy delicately asked for the Commissioner’s help in rescuing Molly. A moment later he picked up his phone, dialed a number, and had a short conversation in the regional language. He set his phone down and looked up with a smile. We had his permission.
As we walked out to hail a rickshaw Greg and Mincy were all smiles. The pushback and stalling they encountered a month ago was nowhere to be found. Things were lining up and falling into place.
After meeting up with the rest of the team for a quick lunch, Greg asked me if I was ready to go.
“Where?” I said.
Greg responded, “You want to come on the raid?”
A moment later I kissed my wife good bye and headed out with Greg and Mincy to meet with the police team to discuss the timing of the raid.
We’d arranged to meet Suparee, the lead police officer, at a local coffee shop. While we’d secured the Commissioner’s blessing, getting this guy to actually agree to conducting the raid was an entirely different task.
On the way there, Mincy pulled out her phone. Showing me a grainy picture pulled from surveillance footage captured by the investigators. She said, “this is Molly. Green jeans, pink tank top…. that’s what she’s wearing.”
Shortly after arriving at the coffee shop Suparee arrived. After ordering coffee and a bit of chit chat, Suparee suggested we do the raid the next day as it was already midafternoon and his team was currently tied up with a case and would not be done for several hours.
Unmoved, Greg gently pushed back insisting the raid had to happen that day as there was no guarantee she would be there the next day.
Another coffee. Another conversation. A few phone calls. More hemming. More hawing. In the back and forth of seemingly trivial conversation Suparee again gently suggested pushing the raid off until the next day. It was obvious that he didn’t want to be bothered with what would turn out to be a very long night.
Greg smiled and said we’d wait. It didn’t matter how long it took Suparee’s team to finish their work we would be ready to go whenever they finished.
More phone calls and more coffee. By this point the conversation was a bit straining as all normal conversational topics like the weather, family, and politics had been exhausted. Still the delicate dance of garnering Suparee’s cooperation would continue until he agreed. The longer we waited and the more awkward the long conversational pauses became, the more uncomfortable Suparee appeared.
Suparee could see the writing on the wall: We were not going away. One way or another he was going to have to attempt a brothel raid that night to rescue Molly.
After close to 2 hours Suparee began to cave. After taking a brief phone call, he said his team was wrapping up their work and it would be another 45 minutes but that we would attempt a raid afterwards.
15 minutes later, Suparee got a call from his team. We were on our way.
*In April we’ll bring you part 2 of this story. Until then please keep Molly in your thoughts and prayers.
RESCUING MOLLY – PART 2
April 24th, 2014
This is part 2 of “Rescuing Molly” a first person accountof a brothel raid in India that occurred on January 7, 2014.
It was dusk and darkness settled quickly when Suparee, the lead police officer, finally agreed to conduct the raid. As we drove across town to the red light district my stomach was knotted with anticipation as questions that only time could answer raced through my mind. Was this it? Was this going to be the night Molly was rescued? Was January 7th going to be her first day of freedom?
After ten minutes of weaving through a white-knuckle patchwork of Indian traffic we arrived. The driver pulled over just outside the red light district and cut the engine.
Greg, Freedom Firm’s founder, pulled out his phone and texted the undercover investigators, giving them the green light to go and find Molly.
Closing his phone, Greg looked up with a thin but hopeful smile and said, “All we can do now is pray they find her.”
If the investigators’ found Molly, one of them would “engage” her, meaning pay the brothel keeper for her services, go with her to a private room where the door would usually be locked, then send a text to our team that Molly was secured and we could commence the raid.
As we sat waiting for a signal from the investigators no one said anything.
The silence was deafening
Usually an investigator would signal back within 10 minutes of entering the red light district, but not today.
Ten minutes went by.
Fifteen minutes went by.
Finally, Greg received a text. Molly was nowhere to be found. It seemed that our window of opportunity was gone.
“Maybe she’s in with a customer,” Greg thought out loud.
Our hearts sank. All day the pieces had fallen into place. Success seemed to be ours for the taking, yet now the final and most important piece–Molly–was nowhere to be found.
Greg sat in silence for a few moments collecting his thoughts.
The police were getting restless. One cop stepped out of their too-cramped vehicle to stretch his legs and make a phone call. Suparee didn’t say anything but it was obvious he wasn’t willing to wait much longer.
Looking up from his thoughts, Greg said, “We move on to Plan B.”
With that, Greg texted another investigator signaling him to go to another brothel where they suspected–but had not confirmed–that a minor was being sold for sex.
After another 10 minutes of palpable silence, Greg’s phone lit up. As he read the text on his phone, Greg’s face spread into a huge smile.
The text read, “Molly found. Engaged.”
A moment later, the driver fired up the engine, threw the car into gear and with a jolt we drove into the red light district. After driving as far as we could down the narrow, winding lanes, we jumped out of the car and proceeded on foot.
My senses were buzzing and my skin tingled as adrenaline shot through my veins. I was in India, on a raid to rescue a young girl who had been trafficked into a brothel.
As we hurried to our destination, people all around us looked up with cautious and confused stares. After a few moments, one person caught on to what we were doing and turned to run. Then everyone did.
People ran in every direction. Doors slammed and windows were shut, all bolted tight.
Right as we arrived at the brothel where Molly was enslaved, the brothel keeper slammed the door shut. But before she could lock it, two plain-clothes police officers caught the door and pried it open. In an instant five police officers poured into the tiny, ramshackle brothel.
Inside there was a flurry of shouting. A moment later one girl came out.
I searched her face trying to look through her thickly caked, incongruous makeup to see Molly, but this wasn’t her.
A minute later another girl came out, escorted by a female officer.
This was Molly.
Scared and confused her eyes darted back and forth uncertain of what was happening.
Immediately, Mincy, Freedom Firm’s social worker, went to Molly, put her arm around her shoulders, took her hand and led her aside. Mincy explained who she was, that Molly was safe, and that she would not be going back to the brothel.
After the police arrested the brother keeper and cleared the scene, we walked back to our vehicles and drove to the police station. There the brothel keeper was booked and charged with prostituting a minor, trafficking a minor, and other crimes associated with keeping a brothel.
With Mincy by her side, Molly gave her statement to the police. Later still, Molly was taken to a hospital for age verification and thereafter to a government shelter for minor girls rescued from prostitution. (There is information about the shelter at the end of this article.)
After a very long day I walked into the lobby of my hotel at around 11:30PM.
I was exhausted but invigorated. Hungry, but too overwhelmed to eat as the realization of what I had just been part of set in.
It’s not often one has the opportunity to be part of someone’s first day of freedom, and while I was physically present for the events of the day, make no mistake, you were there too.
As a supporter of Freedom 4/24 you played a vital and integral role in rescuing Molly. Without your donations or participation in a Run 4 Their Lives race Molly would not have been rescued that day.
Your giving to Freedom 4/24 directly funds Freedom Firm’s work in central India—from investigations, to brothel raids; from restorative social work, to helping young girls find the courage to confront their brothel keepers in court. For each and every step of the process, your sacrificial giving paves the path to freedom.
At Freedom 4/24 we firmly believe that freedom begins with a day. For Molly, that day was January 7, 2014. As her story unfolds we’ll bring you updates of her progress, her triumphs, setbacks, and accomplishments. Until then, please keep Molly and the Freedom Firm team supporting her in your prayers.
THE GIRLS OF KARUNA
April 3rd, 2014
Early this year, I had the opportunity to visit Karuna, a rehabilitation home for minor girls rescued from the red light areas in central India. Before arriving at the home, I mentally prepared myself to meet a group of girls hardened, withdrawn, and jaded as a result of their years enslaved as prostitutes. I told myself “these are not going to be typical teenagers” and prayed God would give me strength to bring joy and light into what I expected to be a very dark visit. I was steeled for what I assumed I would experience, but what I experienced was far more difficult.
Many of the girls at Karuna were headed toward a life of prostitution the moment their parents knew their gender. Despite this, the girls I met that day are not entirely hardened, withdrawn or without hope. In actuality, they are shockingly similar to teenage girls in the United States: They asked probing questions about my life, giggled at the answers and whispered to one another between cautious glances my way. They eagerly showed me their handmade jewelry seeking my approval. They coaxed me into deejaying an impromptu dance party with the music on my phone. They shared with me their dreams of being teachers and nurses and mothers—they were teenagers, not so different from the American teens I encounter at home
These girls have been given so little in their lives – little luxury, little opportunity, little love, and yet, they are so eager, so hopeful, so innocent. The shocking contrast between their experiences in red light areas throughout India, and the youthful curiosity and typical teenage behavior I observed that day brought the harsh reality of these young girls’ lives into focus. I was reminded that the lives of sex trafficking survivors are just as complex as the industry itself. There is no universal formula for predicting the behavior of a victim, there is no one prescription for providing rehabilitation.
I left Karuna heartbroken, humbled, and convinced we must do more. The girls’ hope and resilience inspired me to learn more about the global sex industry and its nuances, to approach my work with Freedom 4/24 with renewed passion, and to cast my own petty weariness aside.
Now, a few months after my visit to Karuna, my prayer is that as each of us is confronted with the complex reality of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, that each of us allows our heart to be broken for these girls and others like them, and that our heartbreak compel us to do more to fight these injustices.
I want to personally invite you to come alongside Freedom 4/24 as we seek to do more for the girls of central India and others like them. Learn with us and allow your heart to break. Act and assume your unique role in the fight against these atrocities. Give and be a part of bringing restoration to survivors of India’s sex trade.
- Post contributed by Abby Barr, Operations Coordinator