Sex Trafficking

By The Editor In Chief

In an exclusive interview with the founder and CEO of the Aruna Project, Ryan Berg, I am brought to light on one of the most undignified violations of human rights in modern day society, sex trafficking.

Ryan Berg became curious after seeing a CNN ticker referencing twelve children being rescued from a brothel in Mumbai, India. His research indicated that the very location he was traveling to for work was the city and destination for sex trafficking. He reveals the sordid conditions he walked into that day as the smell of stale urine filled the air.

“As I made my way up the stairs I could hear the sound of abuse. I got up to the first floor and it opened up to one corridor of just woman after woman lined up in front of these closet-sized rooms with nothing more than a mattress and a pull curtain.”

I asked Ryan his reaction upon seeing this site. He states…

“I tried to express that there is some sort of hope for the future, that sort of thing, but if I could put it honestly, hope had been raked out of them years before. And basically I stepped back out onto the street and truth be told, I just wept, I had never seen anything like this before, I had never seen slavery face to face like that before.”

It was at this point Ryan and his wife decided they had to do something to help these women and children. Their research began by getting engrained in the culture in an attempt to understand why this was happening. They found numerous organizations that they held meetings with to try and find everything they could as to who was doing what to fix this situation. But the problem was systemic. With approximately 15,000 sex workers just within two square miles, they realized the trafficking rates were extraordinarily high in this one particular area. The questions arose of the demographics of the women who landed in the red light area, those who have been sold, those that were actually free and the alarming percentage of 80% that were actually freed, were ending up back in the brothel system.

So why was this happening, why were they ending up back in the brothel system?

What they found was that as much as these women desired to stay free, they simply could not. The cultural dynamics where shame would not allow them to return home, but also systemic issues of poverty and gender inequality. The lack of educational opportunity was the major proponent as this was the reason they could not secure employment. With no reformation in place, they had no choice but to live on the street.

How did these women find themselves in the red light area in the first place?

Astonishingly, in some cases, a family member is involved in the trafficking and a hierarchy of how this works. Most times, these girls live in rural areas and the families would be approached and sold the idea of opportunities that exist in the city. Sometimes the father knows that opportunity is selling her for sex. In the face of extreme poverty, sometimes it’s the only means of repaying debt or helping put the sons of the family through school. Because of gender inequality, the girls don’t get an education, so they won’t get jobs; essentially they are seen as a drain on the family. In other cases, the girls have to do this in order to earn money to take care of sick parents who cannot work. Other times its husbands that will sell their wives.

Do these girls know they are being exploited or are they coerced psychologically?

The stories that Ryan shared with me during our hour-long interview about how these young innocent girls ended up in the brothel system were painful. He gives me a specific example of a girl who now works with them – she was sent by her dad to work in the city with a trafficker.

“… He buys her some tea as they get on the train. What she doesn’t know is that the tea has some sort of sedative in it. She basically wakes up in this brothel, not knowing where she is, not knowing how she got there. And then ultimately is told “hey, you are going to have sex with customers” and she says “no, I’m not! I’m not willing to do this, I did not agree to do this, I’m not going to have sex with customers.” And then they basically say, “well, I purchased you for this amount of money, you need to pay this amount of money back.”

The dynamic of the situation is that this young girl does not have the money to pay them back, so now she has to work for it. At 14 or 15 years old in a strange place, held in a room, they are now beaten and abused by their next perpetrator, the brothel enforcer. His job is to break them. Through exceptional force and coercion, it becomes a psychological breaking point. Most times the girls conform just so they can get out, but their enforcers know they will never release them.

Some of these girls who have been born into the brothel system literally will sleep under the beds where their mother is abused. The cycle is a vicious one.

To read more stories and meet the actual women that were freed by the Aruna Project, follow this link

How poverty and gender inequality plays a significant role

These girls were being sold into modern slavery because of poverty and a lack of education. In a place where women’s rights aren’t respected, where they are seen as a liability, where they must sacrifice themselves in order to educate the sons of the family or support their families financially, it has become a societal norm to treat women with disrespect. According to Ryan, broader research from the state of affairs of women in India indicated that although women aren’t held in the same regard, esteem, or respect as men, the shifting in the economic status of a woman can affect the way she is actually viewed.

Gender inequality has also resulted in sonograms being outlawed, as this resulted in families aborting a child if they found out it was a girl. Reports have shown that in particular regions of South Asia the population numbers start to skew significantly toward male due to unborn females. Ref: apolitical  The Times of India

Target market

The target is a younger female from a poverty-driven area. Mumbai itself is a destination location. Women are trafficked from Calcutta, Bangladesh and brought down into Mumbai. There is a socio-economic layer to sex trafficking. This particular area in Mumbai is the poorest of the poor, where the price per sex act is very low, so the typical customer is a low wage worker, so pretty rough. Being in such an impoverished area, the women’s living conditions are extremely poor. At the other end of the spectrum, there are the higher end brothels where young women are taken, forced to serve customers in other countries, and then brought back. Women with a lighter skin tone fetch a higher price, so they are preferred. This has initiated a draw for women from Northeastern India with places like Nepal and Bangladesh.

Technological advances

Although the typical age of the average girl is a teenager, the distinction between child and young adult is a fine line; this results in cases where the girls are much younger. Because of this, the pimps have had to get smart as to how these girls are used so they won’t get caught, as we are now talking about child trafficking. With technological advances, the pimps can be more clearly identified, so they have also started using technology to their own benefit. Instead of keeping these younger girls within the brothel system, they start them in flats, then utilize technology to transport them to third site locations where the sex act takes place, then transport them back to the private brothel. If they are ever kept within the public brothel system, they are held deep within the labyrinth of the building system, making it very difficult to find them. As these girls “get used up” they are then sold into the public brothel system. Of course, the younger the girl, the higher the price they can fetch.


 My next question was obvious. What is creating the demand side of the equation for sex trafficking? In other words, what fuels the market?

The answer was the vast amounts of money that’s made in the industry by the traffickers and the brothel hunters. But I wanted to dig deeper. Someone is buying the product. What is happening in the minds of people that are actually supporting the habit?

From our conclusions, humans are sexual beings, there is a drive, and there is a desire. He explains further that where there is a devaluing of humanity, where there is a devaluing of a human individual and they are no longer seen as an equal but seen as a lessor, then they can be treated in a way where they are lessor. So if someone is viewing another person as less than human, then I could do to him or her as I choose.

This “vice” satisfies them without repercussion. Our realization showed that there were elements of power associated with the individuals involved. Some of these men that ventured into that particular red light area in Mumbai were sexually abused as children. Other complex factors were their want of exerting power or force over others. The aspects were certainly deep-rooted in valuing self-satisfaction over the significant needs of the other person.

They were objectified and dehumanized to the point where they were not seen necessarily as a person. As they were seen as objects, a mere commodity, they were able to satisfy their needs, their desires, their wants, even if it meant exerting power, force or abuse. The psychological issues associated with the concept of sexual exploitation and subordination is traumatizing to the woman. This renders the victim powerless, broken, and easily manipulated by others.

Personally, I see the objectification of women for the use and privilege of male power and pleasure as not only sexual exploitation but as psychological warfare. These relationships are built on power and control; it’s a game to the desires of men. But to the victim, the impact is traumatic, emotionally and physically.

At what point do we say stop the pornography, it dehumanizes. I’m not just some girl, I am equal. I am human, I have tremendous value. At what point do we say stop, I have a voice, I won’t be dismissed or silenced anymore. At what point do we teach men that it’s not okay to use women and discard them when they are finished.

How is Aruna helping women out of sex trafficking?

The Aruna Project has successfully provided holistic care to these women by empowering them with choice. Physically, she is removed from a place of danger to a place of safety. Transitional housing is provided in a safe secured community; a building with security. Psychologically, they offer trauma and hopelessness cognitive behavior therapy treatment by trained professionals. Their training center is staffed with an aftercare specialist that offers an individualized care plan that moves girls from the brothel area that extends the whole way through. They are constantly working on improvements in measuring a woman’s progress and growth pattern. The relational aspect provides a community atmosphere that seeks to develop healthy relationships. These women have become used to unhealthy broken relationships, so they are working on creating healthy relationships. Finally, there’s the economic aspect. The ability to empower these women with significant economic ability where they earn a salary for self-sustainability is critical. They offer retirement savings, health care savings, a medical plan, and a community emergency medical fund. They even have the opportunity to buy shares in the company after they have been employed for 5 years.

The Aruna Project has impacted the immediate lives of over 50 women over the last 3 years they have been in operation. But the true impact has been so much more as one more sibling of so many women won’t have to be sold, or the other corollary factors of those helped are in turn helping hundreds more from being trafficked. They are now in the process of stepping up their production as their production facility is to capacity. Their 3-year plan is to be able to get between 130-140 more women out of the brothel and into the workforce. Their business is young but their scope is far-reaching and touching the lives of women where it’s needed the most.

Along with the production of their bags, they host runs to raise funds to further help their endeavors. Here is a list of their upcoming races you can participate in – Races

Help them to reach their goal in opening their new facility by supporting the women of Aruna and supporting a brand that empowers women – See the artisan collections

Their product caters to the athleisure market and can beat any product on the open market. Each product holds the name of the girl that was freed that made that bag. To hold a product that is made by one of these women is to hold freedom in your hands. I want to be a part of knowing that I have helped in some small capacity to impact “a life”, a woman’s life, a child’s life!

CNN – Modern-day slavery

Research Gate – Child Trafficking in India

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