A revolutionary new project in India was recently launched with the goal of helping survivors of sex trafficking pursue careers in the legal field.
"We need specially trained people to deal with these issues," explained Saurabh, a lawyer affiliated with the program. "And who better than those who have actually gone through the trauma?"
The School for Justice is an initiative launched in April by Dutch anti-trafficking organization "Free a Girl" in partnership with one of India's top law schools.
The program is designed to provide the funds and daily support necessary to women who have escaped sex trafficking so that they can study towards a bachelor's degree in law.
The women in the program all live in a home run by partner organization Sanlaap, and their food, transportation, and school fees are provided for so that they can focus exclusively on their recovery and their careers. The inaugural class is made up of 19 female students, four of whom have already been accepted into university and 15 of whom are studying for another year before applying.
In order to maintain the safety of these women and girls, their names, location, and the name of the law school will not be released.
"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,” one Sangita, one of the survivors participating in the program, told the Huffington Post. “[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.”
Sangita, like others in the program, seeks closure not only for herself, but for other girls and women who have been brutalized in an ugly and pervasive industry. "I want to fight against child sexual exploitation and help others like me,” she explained. "I am excited about becoming a lawyer and this is why I joined the School for Justice.”
By educating and empowering those who were victims of not only a failing social system, but a legal system as well, the School for Justice has the potential of embedding the most formidable advocates possible into India's courts.
"These are real girls who have been through highly traumatizing experiences and had lives that we could hardly imagine," Bas Korsten, creative director of J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam and one of the School for Justice founders, told Adweek. “They are determined to succeed in their ambition to become lawyers, with the power to prosecute the criminals who once owned them."
The United States State Department estimates that millions of men, women, and children are victims of sex trafficking in India, despite strong laws against it. The problems lie predominantly with the enforcement of these laws as the vast majority of perpetrators, even when caught, are released as many courts simply do not have the capacity to service the multitude of cases they are slammed with. For example, according to the U.S. State Department, in 2014 the police investigated 3,056 trafficking cases, 2,604 of which were sex trafficking cases. Of those thousands prosecuted, 77 percent were acquitted and released back into the streets to potentially hurt again.
The goals of Free a Girl and the School for Justice are long term in nature, and the founders themselves are wide awake in terms of how difficult the road ahead will be.
With just months under its belt, any number of challenges are around the corner for the organization, especially as they rely on donations to keep running, a notoriously finicky funding source. That hasn't stopped them from pushing ahead though with big plans for the future, aiming for larger classes and a school in Brazil as well; if the School for Justice is a success, it will be transformative both for India and the rest of the world.
“You’re not going to change the system with 19 girls,” 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.”
Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS, ROLI SRIVASTAVA