Filed Under:

Another private sex trafficking network uncovered, another battle won by anti-trafficking agencies in Mumbai

Mid-afternoon on 15 May 2018 as the summer sun beat hard upon Mumbai, a residential apartment block in the city’s suburbs became the centre of a crime scene. A rescue team comprising of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) and social workers from IJM Mumbai made its way to a private residence, having received information that four girls were trapped in the clutches of a private sex trafficking network.

As the rescue team arrived on the narrow and congested lane of the residence, one perpetrator became aware of the imminent arrival of the police and escaped the building. This perpetrator was one of three women in a sinister network to ensnare and exploit girls in commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). These networks typically operate with multiple people playing specific roles to run the business. As law enforcement and anti-trafficking civil agencies work to purge this crime from the city of Mumbai, it is vital that there is a greater understanding of the structure, complexities and modus operandi of these mushrooming networks.

Mumbai, India’s most populous city is home to 22 million people. This vibrant, fast-paced city, the commercial, financial and entertainment capital of the country is also infamous for its sprawling red-light district.

A study on the changing trends in CSE published by IJM in 2017 revealed that the modus operandi of sex traffickers in Mumbai has shifted in recent years. Along with the changing landscape of the city, the trade of CSE, has dramatically altered. Young girls are no longer found lining the streets of the red-light districts, in fact, as a result of the efforts of law enforcement and anti-trafficking civil agencies the prevalence of minors in public establishments of CSE such as brothels has reduced to 5.5%. On the surface this is a cause for celebration but sadly the demand for minors has not reduced. Customers seeking sex with young girls now find them in covert private establishments through private networks such as the one uncovered on 15 May.

In this case each of the three female perpetrators had a defined role in the network – one woman would spot the vulnerable girls, another would groom the girls, and the third was responsible for soliciting them. As the rescue operation took place, four girls including two minors were rescued from a ground floor apartment in the three storied private residence. The rescue team established where the escaped perpetrator had fled to and a chase ensued. The perpetrator was caught and all three female perpetrators were arrested.

As the rescued girls began to share their stories with IJM social workers, the two minors aged 15 and 17 explained how they had been lured into CSE. They both attended beautician training at a beauty parlour together, and recognizing their vulnerability, the teacher began to groom the young girls for CSE. Often, perpetrators of sex trafficking will use emotional manipulation and intimidation to trap the vulnerable victim.

The four girls, with the support of social workers, counsellors and lawyers, have now begun their rehabilitative journeys in government-run shelter homes. This private sex trafficking network is now dismantled as each of the three female perpetrators await trial for their crimes. As each network is exposed, those in the fight against sex trafficking gain greater knowledge and are further equipped to combat and eradicate this inhumane business from the city of Mumbai.