Economic devastation from COVID-19 made 17 young women desperate enough to trust human traffickers. But even a global pandemic couldn’t stop The Exodus Road’s BRAVO team — local operatives who investigate human trafficking crime in India.
In Operation Unify, our operatives in India partnered with 40 local law enforcement officers. They found the 17 survivors, set them free, and arrested the 13 men who had trafficked them from their homes in West Bengal and Bangladesh.
This is what The Exodus Road’s courageous teams of investigators do, in India, Thailand, Latin America, and the Philippines: they gather information about potential trafficking situations, investigating through both in-person and online methods. They use the evidence to create workable cases for law enforcement. They support the police during raids, including providing social workers who can offer compassionate reassurance to survivors. They follow up to ensure these vulnerable women and children are placed in safe, restorative aftercare homes.
But why would 17 young women leave the safety of their homes in the first place, making a leap in the dark towards a job offer from a stranger?
Sometimes, desperation makes danger look like safety.
Each of these women had watched their families shatter under repeated blows from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pressures of poverty, the risk of illness, the haunting shadow of hunger — these might have been some of the things that attracted each girl to a stranger’s promise of domestic work in another country.
“The money will be good,” the agent promised. “You’ll be able to provide for your family.”
Imagine their devastation when, after arriving, they were escorted into brothels. They would not be working in wealthy homes. They would not be earning money for their families. They would be bought and sold for sex multiple times a day, seven days a week.
Stories like these are painfully common. So many women and children find themselves trapped in these cycles of darkness with nowhere to go, slipping through society’s cracks. It’s common enough that the 13 traffickers must have been confident that no one would care enough to come looking for these women, 17 out of thousands.
The traffickers were wrong.
The Exodus Road’s Bravo team worked quickly and quietly with law enforcement, identifying the locations where the women were being held. Law enforcement and operatives stormed all three brothels on the same night in one spectacular rescue mission. They found 17 terrified young women, with tears running down the cracking façade of their thick makeup.
Now those 17 women are free. Their traffickers are facing imprisonment of 10 years to life.
The Exodus Road’s teams of national operatives won’t stop until they’ve found more of these sons and daughters, continuing with the same tenacity that set these 17 women free. Over the past decade, The Exodus Road’s teams have participated in freeing over 1,500 individuals from the terror of human trafficking. With prevention and education initiatives and growing aftercare initiatives, The Exodus Road is committed to dismantling modern-day slavery at every level.