As Regional Legal Coordinator with Freedom Firm in Maharashtra, India, Evan Henck ‘07 helps unravel the complex legal and social difficulties that come with prosecuting sex trafficking.
Evan’s virtual journal entry below depicts the sobering reality of the sex trade even as it celebrates the Freedom Firm’s recent progress. It originally appeared in the 2010 Spring/Summer edition of “Brief Remark”, Regent University School of Law’s new biannual publication.
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Jan. 16 2010
In January an informant phoned Suresh Pawar, a human rights activist with the Freedom Firm in Maharashtra, India, with a tip that goons from the red light district intended to form a mob against him. They planned to beat him up hoping that then the local police raids would stop. Further information revealed a plot to collect money from brothel keepers to have him killed.
The threats surfaced after Suresh Pawar and his team filed three human trafficking cases, rescued ten girls, and apprehended eight accused all in the first half of January.
This type of opposition doesn’t just come from the brothel keepers and criminals; Freedom Firm must also negotiate shady police practices. After the intervention team’s second raid, for example, Suresh Pawar walked back into the brothel to counter police extortion. Since the raids started, criminal entrepreneurs, some of them police, have begun using Suresh Pawar's name to blackmail brothel keepers with threats of a police raid. So Suresh Pawar reentered the brothel to tell the brothel keepers not to give money when his name was used in the threat.
Suresh Pawar completed the raid with the help of the police, and then went back into the brothel to stop the police. Relationships with the police in Maharashtra are razor thin and complicated to say the least.
After the mob threats were investigated, local police hauled two criminals into the station to question them about the murder- for- hire scheme. On the way, they cooked up a story. They wanted to file a complaint for extortion - against Suresh Pawar!
So, as I write, this is where we stand at Freedom Firm. And yet this is the best possible news.Since 2007, Freedom Firm has conducted forty human trafficking raids in Maharashtra with fifty-two people arrested for their crimes. Approximately 60 victims, all young girls, have been taken off the market. Of three cases completed in this time frame, two were convictions. In the next case in line, the accused escaped from the court- she was going to be convicted.Trafficking cases present a very different proposition today than they did three years ago. No longer is the hassle of attending court when the accused would ultimately be acquitted 2-3 years later simply a cost of doing business. Now, it matters. An advocate told me that he had seen maybe one girl testify in a PITA (Prevention of Immoral Trafficking) case, and that he had never seen a conviction. Now that must be an exaggeration, but the point is clear. Prosecuting human trafficking in Maharashtra used to be a game and everyone from the police to the superintendant of the aftercare homes got rich. But since there have been two convictions, the tone in the courts is changing. Enforcement is happening and it’s not a game anymore.So it’s not surprising that Evil is pushing back with equal force. It wants the raids to stop. It wants power, it wants money, and it wants the girl. The opposition confirms that Freedom Firm’s work is having an effect. And so the raids must continue.To support the Freedom Firm and to learn more, visit www.freedom.firm.in