Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bangalore girl rescues women stuck in sex trade in Goa despite threats

Experience Rescuing Teenagers Caught in Sex Trafficking Motivates
Student's Research

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When University at Buffalo School of Social Work
doctoral candidate Bincy Wilson tried to rescue teenage women from
sexual trade slavery working the streets of Goa, India, she was the
frequent target of threats made by the pimps -- some of them family
members of the women -- whose livelihood relied on keeping these women
in sexual servitude.

( - BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When University at Buffalo
School of Social Work doctoral candidate Bincy Wilson tried to rescue
teenage women from sexual trade slavery working the streets of Goa,
India, she was the frequent target of threats made by the pimps --
some of them family members of the women -- whose livelihood relied on
keeping these women in sexual servitude.

"Threats, oh yes, they were part of the job," says Wilson, who
recently finished two international conferences in which she presented
on the need for trans-cultural holistic interventions for women
exiting the sex trade, and the traumatic experiences of women in the
trade. "You don't stay put fearing for your own life when there is a
need to rescue others. We worked in this field because we were
passionate about what we did, and the smile of hope on the emancipated
victims' faces is worth the risk taken."

Wilson, 27, has tapped into the experiences of her young life for her
study at UB. A native of Bangalore, India, Wilson spent three years in
Goa assisting women in finding alternatives to working in the sex
trade. More recently as a therapist at "SAGE," an agency with a
similar mission in San Francisco, she was able to address the
traumatization in this prostitute population -- which has fueled her
interest and sense of urgency in her research.

She intends to use the knowledge gained from her research to help
organizations develop good interventions and other ways to provide
services to victims of sex trafficking.

Essential in Wilson's research is the fact that sex trafficking is
both a worldwide and dramatically increasing problem. A 2010 report
prepared by the U.S. Department of State Government concluded the
numbers of people -- mostly women -- involved in human trafficking had
increased by 59 percent in the past two years. The International Labor
Organization estimates that there are at least 12.3 million adults and
children who are trafficked for forced labor, bonded labor and sex
trade. And the problem extends across the globe, from developed to
developing countries, according to Wilson's research.

"Sex trafficking is a global social justice issue," Wilson said in her
presentation, "Developing Interventions for Women Exiting the Sex
Trade: Societal Perspectives," that she and Barbara Rittner, associate
dean for external affairs in the UB School of Social Work, delivered
at the annual Conference on Human Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex
Work held at the University of Toledo. "Whatever attention it receives
is driven by the rapidly increasing numbers of people being trafficked
internationally and by ( medical and health ) concerns about sexually
transmitted disease such as HIV/AIDS associated with the trade."

"Working with Bincy created an important shift in my thinking," says
Rittner. "Most of my work has been with children in foster care in the
states, many of whom had mothers in the sex trade, and many of my
female adolescent foster children were runaways recruited into the sex
trade from the streets.

"The work Bincy and I are doing has helped me think differently about
how women enter the trade, why they stay in the trade and why what
works in the West to encourage exit may not be workable in the East or
subcontinent India. This is what makes working with international
doctoral students so exciting."

Wilson's two academic presentations, including a recent presentation
in Atlanta, tapped into her unique mix of scholarly expertise and
experiences. They were lessons from the years she and her coworkers
intervened in the lives of young women -- many still in their teens --
trying to escape lives of prostitution and exploitation from pimps,
who sometimes were their husbands and family members. She was program
manager at an Indian organization Arz, which translates to "Life
Without Injustice," in the Indian coastal city of Goa where she worked
as a counselor rehabilitating young women forced to work in the sex
trade for money.

"You see exploitation of these women in every way," says Wilson, who
came to Buffalo with her husband who also enrolled in a doctoral
program at UB. "Not only is the trauma associated with their
experience while in the sex trade, but it is also attached to their
past, even before they enter the trade. Most of them are coming from
lives of abuse, neglect and abject poverty, situations in which they
do not have a square meal or basic resources.

"The debilitating impact of being in the sex trade is visible not only
when they are in the sex trade, but also when they are trying to exit
the trade. You find them getting addicted to drugs or alcohol in order
to cope with the experience of sexual trauma, their health takes a
major toll on them with multiple abuses, abortions, miscarriages,
menstrual and gynecological problems. Most of the girls suffer from
post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD ), complex PTSD, dissociation,
depression, suicide attempts and severe anxiety. They experience
difficulty having a normal relationship because of their traumatic
sexual experience. When they are in a relationship with someone they
love, it becomes difficult for them to get intimate due to the sexual
trauma experienced while in the trade. They are often viewed as mere
sexual objects by men, and none care to know who they really are

While working for three years as a program manager in Goa, Wilson
helped establish an automatic laundry to give the sex trade workers an
alternative for making a living and a chance to be together for
support. She and her coworkers saw many success stories, she says, but
it's the failed ones that often linger most in her mind.

Three years ago, when she was 24, Wilson was working to rehabilitate
women working in the sex trafficking business in the infamous red
light district of Goa, a traditional destination for Indians and
international jetsetters. Thanks to their close ties to the community,
Wilson's colleagues heard about a young girl accompanied by a man who
had recently come to town, and the community identified the man as the
girl's husband.

A staff member brought the couple into Wilson's office, and the
husband told workers how they came from a poor background and were in
desperate need of money; that's why the girl was working as a
prostitute. Wilson's colleagues offered the cooperative laundromat as
an alternative, and at the same time contacted police to prosecute the
husband for trafficking his wife.

But there were delays in getting the police involved, Wilson
remembers. "The man wanted to leave and not have anything to do with
us," she says. "Then he said he wanted to take the girl to the doctor.
So I said I wanted to accompany them to the doctor. And he kept
insisting on me leaving on the way. But I knew once they left, we
would not have any trace of where they were going.

"I started going along with them. And the girl kept insisting I leave
because the husband was pressuring her and telling me to leave. All
the time, my colleagues were trying to get the magistrate and
anti-trafficking unit to come and catch these two."

On the way to the doctor's, the man said he needed to stop at his
house because they needed to get something there. So Wilson waited
outside and watched while the two went inside. "They exited through
the back door of the house," Wilson says. "By the time the
anti-trafficking force came, they had already escaped and we had no
trace of them."

Wilson never saw either of them again.

"I keep seeing that picture of the girl's face in my mind," Wilson
says. "Even now when I talk about it, I have a very strong image of
that girl looking so helpless and asking me to leave. She had this
look of fear, not only for herself but also for me, for something
happening to me, because I was traveling alone with them.

"She was very young, obviously a minor, very small build. She had this
jazzy lipstick on, trying to make her as attractive and marketable as

There are other stories, some much more successful. Wilson knows her
very first rescue victim is doing well. "She's getting married, she
has a baby girl," she says. "The last time I was in Goa I saw her.
It's really nice to see them leading a better life, one that is not

Success or disappointment, what she saw on the streets remains a major
motivation in her work at UB.

"Research is a product of my experience and the time working in the
field," says Wilson. "Whatever services are provided, something is
still missing because I see some women relapsing back into the same
life. I am really interested in exploring that missing factor."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York
system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than
28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300
undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in
1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of
American Universities.

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