“They say that we belong to a generation which works from weekend to weekend. So when Monday morning comes, a lot of us are actually looking forward to Friday for the process of unwinding. And, what does this involve? More often than not, it involves ticking going to the restaurant and ticking off from the list that keeps growing every week, sitting in the restaurant and posting about the food while figuring out the text and the tags and obviously enjoying the food which we have worked so hard to devour.”
Mary Sebastian’s started her talk at YKA Summit’s day two, with this powerful comment on our current generation. She works for the elimination of violence against women and children, with a special focus on victims of sex trafficking, in Maharashtra. She is currently working with a global anti-trafficking organisation, International Justice Mission, where she assists law enforcement officials, in the rescue of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, and provides legal representation through court proceedings.
She supports systemic interventions and advocacy efforts on the survivor justice-related issues at the state government level and has organised a national level consultation, on the arrest of demand for commercial sexual exploitation. She is currently undertaking a research study with the Maharashtra State Child Rights Protection Commission, to analyse the functioning of childcare agencies, under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015 in six districts in Maharashtra.
After her comment on the present generation, she explained how there’s a bunch of people who’d do anything to get their food delivered so that “they can begin their sacred ritual of binge eating.” She explained how it came to her mind, one day while binge eating, that the meagre amount of 200-300 rupees that she uses to buy comfort food is the exact same amount which is used to buy a victim of sex trafficking. She reiterates, that the amount used by her, to indulge herself for a weekend, is the same cost for which a victim will face trauma for the rest of her life.
It is difficult to explain the nature and impact of this crime in the right words because it is omnipresent, violent and traumatising. “When we’ve advanced so much in technology, when we’ve advanced so much in every other field, it is actually unconscionable that we even allow this crime to exist,” Sebastian says.
We’ve moved away from slavery and the old times, but this crime still exists which violates human rights in one of the most brutal ways. She has been working for an organisation which has been working in this area for almost 20 years, day after day, protecting the rights of the victims.
She describes how this process doesn’t actually work in isolation. It includes fieldwork, rescuing, rehabilitating and sustainably restoring these survivors. It cannot be done in isolation, because it operates in conjunction with law enforcement, social services, the public prosecutors and the judges. The understanding of minute details and nuances are important for tackling this crime.
Sebastian threw light on the reality of the situation of sex trafficking survivors, through the examples of Lara and Abha; their stories of being forced into the racket of sex trafficking and ending up in brothels. She explained how these cases generally begin with a fake story or a love affair, in cases of men misguiding women, and a promise of opportunities and a better future.
The stories of Lara and Abha showed how young girls of the ages 12–13 are sold off to brothels, forced to serve the clients in the sex trade, blackmailed while their innocence is stolen all along. Sebastian explained everything that sex trafficking is about: systematic rape, rape for profit; it is when the dignity of an individual is pulverized for monetary gains of another person, a travesty on human rights.
She explained the three stages of sex trafficking: acquisition, movement and exploitation. The example of placing an order on Amazon and the process followed throughout served to explain similarities in how modern-day sex trafficking works. Earlier, it was a more traditional method of plotting and planning, where the targeted victim is manipulated, and then sent off to brothels after drugging them. The new method instead uses modern technology, like WhatsApp, which makes it difficult to find such settlements. The setup has now moved from physical place/settlements to online platforms, making it extremely difficult to catch them.
Sebastian explained the conditioning period of these victims, forced into sex work and brothels, where the will and resistance are completely broken. She says, “The victim is drugged, brutally raped, humiliated and exploited, day after day, to the moment where she cannot retaliate anymore and that’s when you know you’ve broken her spirit.” As audiences, it was painful to listen to the statement- “She will be confined, and she will do whatever it takes after that because everything is painful and there is absolutely no hope in it.”
“Stories of Lara and Abha are not uncommon,” she explained, because sex racket is a 34 billion dollars industry, it is not just about the cases, but more of a question of the mindset of people. The only solution to this is a radical change in our mindset. She asks, “What are we doing as a society to address that?”
She concluded with a power-packed statement, “It’s easy to be sounding intellectual, it’s hard to get things done.” and urged the youth to “Get off the sidelines and get involved.”
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.