This ‘School For Jus­tice’ trains sex traf­fick­ing sur­vivors to be lawyers

Weekend Mirror - - CHILDREN’S CORNER -

A new pro­gram in In­dia is help­ing sur­vivors of child sex traf­fick­ing get jus­tice for oth­ers like them ? by pur­su­ing ca­reers in the legal sys­tem.

The School for Jus­tice, launched in April by Dutch anti- t r af­fick­ing group Free a Girl, pro­vides fund­ing and other sup­port t o women who have es­caped un­der­age sex traf­fick­ing, so they can pre­pare for univer­sity and earn bach­e­lor’s de­grees in law.

The goal is to em­power for­mer vic­tims to change how In­dia’s legal sys­tem fights traf­fick­ing ? be­cause all too of­ten, per­pe­tra­tors aren’t brought to jus­tice, Free A Girl founder Evelien Hölsken told Huf­fPost. The pro­gram also aims to raise aware­ness of child sex traf­fick­ing.

The School for Jus­tice’s in­au­gu­ral class kicked off in April with 19 young women. Four were ac­cepted to univer­sity and will start this month, Hölsken told Huf­fPost. The other 15 will study for an­other year or so be­fore ap­ply­ing. To main­tain their safety, the group is not re­leas­ing their full names, the lo­ca­tion of the school, or the name of the univer­sity that some are at­tend­ing.

Huf­fPost spoke by email with some of the women, who shared their sto­ries and ex­plained why they de­cided to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram.

“Be­ing poor, I left my fam­ily at 9 years old to work in do­mes­tic ser­vice in a large house. The gar­dener, gate­keeper, the sweeper and other men abused me there,” sur­vivor San­gita said. “[Years later] I left the house, but I didn’t re­al­ize that with­out money or di­rec­tions I would not be able to find my way home. I asked [a woman beg­ging on the street] for help, but she took me to a brothel and sold me to it. I was 13 years old.”

“I want to fight against child sex­ual ex­ploita­tion and help oth­ers like me,” San­gita added. “I am ex­cited about be­com­ing a lawyer and this is why I joined the School for Jus­tice.”

Mil­lions of women and chil­dren are vic­tims of sex traf­fick­ing in In­dia, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. State Depart­ment. Traf­fick­ers of­ten prom­ise them op­por­tu­ni­ties for em­ploy­ment or mar­riage, only to then force them into

Par­tic­i­pants in the School for Jus­tice

pros­ti­tu­tion.

While In­dia has strong laws against traf­fick­ing, they are not al­ways en­forced. In 2014, for in­stance, po­lice in­ves­ti­gated 3,056 hu­man traf­fick­ing cases, in­clud­ing 2,604 sex traf­fick­ing cases, the State Depart­ment re­ports. Yet 77 per­cent of the traf­fick­ers who were prose­cuted were ac­quit­ted.

“The po­lice res­cued me, after some­one work­ing in the red light area tipped them off,” San­gita told Huf­fPost. “The peo­ple in the brothel, they were not even ar­rested.”

The School for Jus­tice helps sur­vivors be­come lawyers by cov­er­ing the cost of school fees, hous­ing, food and trans­port as they pur­sue their de­grees. The par­tic­i­pants all live in the same house, run by staff mem­bers of its lo­cal part­ner, which res­cues girls from broth­els and pro­vides them with hous­ing and ed­u­ca­tion. There, the stu­dents take English classes, ba­sic law classes and get as­sis­tance ap­ply­ing to and at­tend­ing univer­sity.

The idea for the school emerged after Free a Girl hired Am­s­ter­dam-based com­mu­ni­ca­tions agency J. Wal­ter Thomp­son to cre­ate an ad rais­ing aware­ness of child sex traf­fick­ing in In­dia.

“You’re not go­ing t o change the sys­tem with 19 girls,” J. Wal­ter Thomp­son ex­ec­u­tive Bas Korsten told Huf­fPost. “But you get the ball rolling: They be­come change agents, the is­sue gets talked about, in­ter­na­tional pres­sure builds on the sys­tem for it to change.”

One of the ma­jor chal­lenges the School for Jus­tice is tack­ling is the stigma that sex traf­fick­ing sur­vivors face. After girls and women are res­cued from broth­els, for in­stance, their fam­i­lies won’t al­ways take them back, Hölsken told Huf­fPost.

What’s more, the In­dian gov­ern­ment of­ten ar­rests sur­vivors for traf- fick­ing- re­lated crimes rather than get­ting them the sup­port they need, the U.S. State Depart­ment re­ports. The prob­lem isn’t lim­ited to traf­fick­ing vic­tims in In­dia: In the United States, law enforcement of­fi­cials of­ten per­ceive sex traf­fick­ing vic­tims as crim­i­nals and ar­rest them for pros­ti­tu­tion and other re­lated charges.

“Some parts of our so­ci­ety treat us as ‘some­thing else’ or an in­sect that has no right to a life or to be a part of main­stream so­ci­ety,” sur­vivor Kalyani told Huf­fPost by email. “I am still not well ac­cepted at my own home.”

“They’re not s e e n a s vic­tims,” Hölsken said. “Peo­ple think they are just bad girls or are too lazy to do other work.”

The School for Jus­tice pro­gram costs around $3,400 per stu­dent per year. Pri­vate donors in the Nether­lands have al­ready funded ex­penses for the next two years, Hölsken told Huf­fPost, but the school is cur­rently seek­ing more donors from In­dia and else­where to fund a new crop of par­tic­i­pants in 2018 and on­ward.

The pro­gram is just get­ting off the ground, and could face any num­ber of chal­lenges as it grows. The stu­dents are all deal­ing with trauma, Hölsken noted, which makes it more of a chal­lenge to stay in school long enough to com­plete their de­grees. But with a fresh crop of stu­dents start­ing the pro­gram each year, there’s a chance that a num­ber of them will grad­u­ate.

Free a Girl is cur­rently look­ing into repli­cat­ing the pro­gram in Brazil and other coun­tries.

“That’s why the sto­ries of ev­ery sin­gle girl in the school are so im­por­tant ? they were traf­ficked, they were sold, it was not a choice,” Hölsken told Huf­fPost. “They are so so brave, and we are so proud of them. If no­body dares to speak out, then noth­ing will change.” (Source: Huf­fPost)

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