Sex Slaves for Kolkata
As life goes on, we become acutely aware of those moments we encounter that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. There are images we see that become the permanent fixtures in our memory. One word can trigger these images and immediately bring us back to that one moment that has been branded into our mind. With this often comes a flood of emotions, and we become frozen in place, re-living that one moment again and again.
I believe that these moments shape our lives in profound ways. These moments are what create a timeline of our past. When we take the time to think about the life we have lived thus far, these moments are what stand out and become the marks along the timeline.
Last February I had one of these moments. I was riding through Sanagachi, the largest red-light district in Asia located in Kolkata, India. I can see the scene now in glaring detail. I was sitting in the back of a car with three other Americans and two Canadians. It was 5:00 in the afternoon on a Monday. As we neared Sanagachi, we took a left-handed turn which dropped us right into the middle of an alley lined with massive, dark, filthy brothels. Since it was only 5:00 on a Monday, the street seemed unbelievably busy. Thousands of people packed the street. Along the sides of the street and standing in the doorways, I saw woman after woman, young and old. Some, mostly the older women, wore traditional Indian clothing, while the younger women wore short skirts, tight dresses, and low tops. Their hair and make-up gave evidence of the fact that they had spent a tremendous amount of time “getting ready” for work that night. On their faces was one of two expressions: false joy or utter misery. Those who gave the image of false joy seemed to simply be trying to appear to be attractive or enjoyable. Those whose faces reflected misery revealed an attitude of complete submission and hopelessness.
The other actors in the scene were the men. They reflected a much different attitude. As they romped and ran around the ally, they seemed completely unconscious of the misery around them. Their selfish drive for pleasure was evident, laughing with one another as they walked past the poor prostitutes sitting on the steps into a crowded brothel. Some men were relieving themselves on the side of buildings as they made crude comments to the women within earshot.
Dirt, grime, hate, pain, filth, dark, evil. I had never been in a place where I could literally feel evil. The air felt thick. The sun was still in the sky but this place felt dark as a moonless night --- Evil is tangible.
As we were driving past one of the brothels, I made eye contact with a girl sitting on the steps of her brothel. This image, I will never forget. She appeared to be around the age of 15. She was wearing heavy make-up, a small skirt, and a little tank top. Her skin was lighter than most of the girls on the street. Her admired skin tone and young age held her small face. As we drove by, I locked eyes with her. It is hard to describe what I saw in her eyes. Never have I felt so close to the utter, wretched desperation. It was as though everything within her, including her soul, had been ripped out of her and replaced by filth. It was as though I could see her life story. I could see her as a little girl, playing with her siblings and holding her favorite doll, dreaming of the day she, too, could be a mommy. I could see the man who came to her door, telling her parents that they owned him money and had to pay up. I could see as her parents resorted to selling their daughter to pay off their debt. Did they know that they had sold her into a reality that would rob her of every aspect of being a human? Did they know they were selling her spirit? Her comprehension of love? Did they know they were turning her into a dispensable object of pleasure sold at a cheap price? If they did know this, I no longer believe in a human tendency for good.
What I cannot stand is thinking about the fact that this poor, beautiful, robbed girl is still sitting on those steps. Her life is still one that revolves around the seven times a night she is raped. Every night, every night, she is prey to a new man seeking pleasure. She is touched. She is groped. She is invaded. Every night.
What makes me even more sad is knowing that she is just one of millions. Right now there are thousands, if not millions, of girls in the middle of torture as they once again have no choice but to submit themselves to the humiliation of repeated rape. Some are as young as five years old. They did not choose this life. This life was chosen for them. They have been told they are worth nothing more than a few moments of pleasure for someone else. They are toys. Easily replaceable toys. They are worth maybe a couple dollars. This is all they know, and all they will know, until the day they die.
This is a horrible reality. It’s one of many horrible realities that exist in the world today. It is easy to look at a reality like sex slavery and take ten seconds to think, “Wow, that’s sad,” and then go on throughout your day. But that one thought, those ten seconds, does nothing for those girls stuck in the brothels. They are just waiting for someone who has heard about them and cared enough to come and save them. They are waiting for someone who believes that they are worth more than a couple dollars, who believes that they have more to contribute to the world than just a momentary pleasure.
There are some people out there who do care. I went to India with an organization called International Justice Mission which puts up a huge fight against human trafficking. What is so hard for those of us who do care is knowing what to do about something that is this massive and this ingrained into society. What are we, blessed American nobodies, supposed to do about the poor girl sitting on the brothel steps? If you are asking yourself this question, I beg of you no to stop there!
Asking a question means nothing if you do not take the time to seek an answer. The reality is that you can do something about it. Learn about it, think about it, talk about it. Resist the temptation to just feel bad and move on. Act! We talk about wanting to change the world, but how often are we actually willing to put in the work that creating change requires? I, for one, am great at talking about something I see needs to change and then sitting around for someone to change it. What a shame.
It is impossible to go through life without witnessing some form of injustice. We as a people have become so numb to injustice that we find ourselves walking past a homeless person and at most thinking, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and then moving on. This has got to change. Injustice has become so common that we fail to even see it most of the time. Open your eyes and keep them open! Do not let one sentimental moment satisfy you. Seek justice. Use the resources and the incredibly blessed life that you have been given to fight that which you know is wrong. True sentimentality will lead to action. Do not let yourself become lazy in your convictions. Look beyond your comfort, see that girl sitting on the steps of the brothel in Kolkata, India, and do not be satisfied until she knows that she is loved.
For more information on sex trafficking and the effort to rescue its victims, visit ijm.org and polarisproject.org.