Sindhuniverse: the international plague of child sex trafficking

 Nisha was born in the Nat community of Bihar, where intergenerational prostitution is an entrenched practice. The girls of the village are taught as children that they are indebted to their families. They are taught to pay back this debt by prostituting themselves.

By the time she was 14, Nisha Khatun had been sold and resold into the sex trafficking industry three times, physically abused by criminals, and gang raped.

“I knew then that … there [was]  no way I could escape the fate of becoming a prostitute,” Nisha said.

Sexual slavery is a crime that is prevalent not only in countries like India, but also in the United States. This may be a difficult reality to confront and accept, but it is an inescapable truth.

This isn’t just Nisha’s story. This is the story of 15 million girls worldwide. We may have learned in history that slavery ended 149 years ago, but, according to the TraffickFree organization, there are more slaves today than ever before — 27 million. In fact, sex trafficking is the third most lucrative business in the world, only after drug and arms trafficking.

3 out of the 13 metro-areas in the United States have been identified by the FBI as areas of high intensity for child sex trafficking. In fact, 20th to 85th street in Oakland and stretches in San Francisco are primary locations of the crime.

These are the streets that my family and I have passed by my entire life. Knowing that there could have been an entrapped girl waiting to be saved in any one of these areas crushes me.

“Everyday we go about our lives driving past or sitting near a person who is going to be sold ten times a day for fifty dollars,” said Mark Fisher, the International Justice Mission California campaigns state leader.

No matter where these girls come from, the verbal, somatic, and psychological abuse or torture that they encounter is ubiquitous. They undergo extreme devastation, they lose control over their own body and sexuality. As a result, these children begin to suffer from Attention Deficiency Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and exorbitant amounts of anger. They feel confined and trapped because they can no longer express themselves, and also because they are engulfed in shame, fear, or guilt.

“Racism, sexism, and poverty. Those are the three major bars of the cage that force women into prostitution,” said Dr. Melissa Farley, renowned clinical psychologist, researcher, and activist. “Today, women are prostituting for gas money to get to a job interview.”

Physically, they are targets of not only STDs such as AIDs and HIV, but also other debilities like Tuberculosis. To shield themselves from the memories and experience of slavery, they even become reliant on alcohol. The girls are even made to believe that their pimps are their own family, that they have nowhere else and nobody else to run to.

Despite this, it was only in 2012 that we included ourselves in the annual trafficking and persons report.  Our absence on this list reflected the widespread notion that sex slavery was a distant, almost fantastical crime that would never be able to thrive here in the states. We didn’t realize that sex trafficking doesn’t depend on geography, but on social and economic circumstances.

I was in a dark, isolated room when I first heard about Nisha’s life. I looked up at my reflection in the window. My face looked different, like it wasn’t even mine anymore. It was just a girl’s. A girl in a run-down room with nobody to go to for love; a girl who was not in control of what happened with her own body; a girl who didn’t remember the last time she looked into a mirror and recognized who she even was.

I was on the other side of that clear window barrier, sitting in an air-conditioned environment full of leather chairs and smelling of gourmet food. Just like Nisha, I was fourteen.

When Nisha Khatun was asked if she saw trafficking as a future for women, she responded with a resounding “NO,” loud enough for the world to hear and, if listened to carefully, echoed back.

Simply hearing of Nisha’s struggles was enough to change my life. She made me feel thankful every single day for the life that I had, and I knew that I would live with the lessons she taught me for a very long time. Her truth incited within me a need to end this exploitation.

Sindhu Ravuri’s (11) column “Sindhuniverse: Global Commentaries” will appear on the first Monday of each month, exclusively on Harker Aquila.