Michelle Mendonca, an advocate who has been representing International Justice Mission (IJM), an NGO working with the police to rescue women who have been forced into prostitution, talks to HT about the joint effort.
When did the collaboration between IJM and the police begin?
The collaboration began when we realised that apart from rescuing these girls, we had to ensure that proper procedure is followed so that the brothel owners are put behind bars.
How do you aid the police?
On several occasions, victims turn hostile because they are afraid that if the brothel owner is not prosecuted then they will face retribution from them. Timely counselling helps these women gain faith in the system. This also ensures that they do not turn hostile. It is a cyclical problem.
How has working with the police been?
We have never had a problem working with the police. In fact we found them to be very sensitive to this problem as well as to the victims. During a recent operation, a police official had tears in his eyes because he was moved by the plight of these victims.
How was it when you first began working with the police?
IJM and the police were both skeptical of each other initially. However, through the course of several rescue operations, we have developed a mutual trust.
What was the situation in the city when you first began working with the police?
Eleven years ago, 12-year-old girls were openly forced into prostitution. Getting a conviction was very difficult because these girls would turn hostile fearing "punishment" from brothel owners if they were released. There was nothing we could do to ensure that these victims feel supported. It was a very tough time.
What is it like today?
Today, several victims are coming forward because they have seen the system work. Some of the girls we rescued have told us about places where such exploitation is taking place. There have been 34 convictions in the last four years, which has increased the confidence of these victims in the police and the judiciary. In the recent rescue operations, we have not found a single minor which shows that the crackdown is working.