*Trigger Warning: The following story contains language surrounding sexual and physical abuse. Please keep this in mind before reading further.
“I want to forget,” Naseen* said through tears, “but I cannot.”
Those words, uttered just weeks after 16-year-old Naseen was rescued from sex trafficking, defined years of her struggle to overcome the abuse and shame.
But today—thanks to International Justice Mission (IJM) staff and friends like you—she and a group of other survivors have been able to overcome their past and look ahead with confidence. Their journey to restoration culminated in a beautiful ceremony this year, as they graduated from IJM’s aftercare program in September and embarked on new lives in freedom.
Deceived and Degraded
Brothel managers profited by selling Naseen and other young girls for sex, all while ignoring their screams for help.
Naseen had grown up like most girls: she loved playing hide and seek, dancing and singing. She studied up to the eighth grade, but then had to drop out when her parents couldn’t afford her tuition. Instead, as a young teen, she had to start working to help the family get by day to day.
A trafficker preyed on Naseen’s vulnerability and convinced her to travel hundreds of miles to Mumbai for a chance to act in a Bollywood movie. But once Naseen arrived in the city, she discovered the horrible truth: she was sold to a brothel, forced to wear skimpy clothes and made to sleep with up to 20 men a day. If she resisted, she was beaten with a wooden block or otherwise tortured—as the brothel manager played loud music to drown out her screams.
Naseen was exploited for nearly a year, until August 2010, when IJM staff and police staged a complicated rescue operation to infiltrate the brothel and free the girls being exploited inside. Life was suddenly different, but the violence Naseen endured had already left their mark. She was confused about her identity now that she was “dirty,” and for the next several months struggled with feelings of guilt and shame.
IJM social workers stayed by Naseen’s side to reinforce the truth: she was safe, worthy and fully capable of recovering from what was done to her. Over the next several years, she participated in trauma-focused counseling with IJM to help address her fear and self-doubt. Naseen began to blossom in freedom, and even began classes in tailoring and literacy as she started planning for her future once again.
Boldly Sharing the Truth
When she was ready, Naseen chose to testify in the legal case against the vicious brothel manager who controlled her. IJM social workers helped Naseen prepare to share the truth in court in early 2012, and on the day of the hearing she was boldly honest about all she had endured.
One advocate noted how quickly and articulately Naseen was able to describe her ordeal before the judge, saying, “She is so smart and intelligent. The defense even asked for an adjournment in the trial to prepare their case because they had not anticipated that she would testify so well.”
When the trial concluded a few months later, the judge convicted the violent brothel owner and sentenced her to seven years in prison. Naseen was elated when she heard about the conviction, saying, “Now she will not be able to torture others the way she has damaged me.”
With the case behind her, Naseen and her social workers felt she was strong enough to live independently again. She moved home, reconnected with family and later got married to a kind young man in her hometown. She reclaimed her own identity and, slowly by slowly, her dreams are coming true.
Celebrating the Beauty of Restoration
Naseen’s journey to restoration culminated in September 2016, when she joined 14 other survivors in a beautiful graduation ceremony from IJM’s aftercare program.
These young women had all been rescued by police with IJM’s assistance in cases dating from 2009 to 2014. Since then, IJM social workers and our partners have provided them with safe shelter, loving counseling, education and skills-training. Trauma-focused therapy helped them find emotional health, confidence and self-worth again.
This road to restoration is never easy, which is why we were so honored to celebrate 15 survivors reaching this major milestone together. As “restored,” they have now successfully overcome their trauma and can thrive without IJM’s help.
During the ceremony, the group reflected on the past and celebrated the future, which helps each survivor recognize her own transformation and courage. IJM staff made personal speeches and handed out trophies to each survivor saying “You are a Shining Star.” Each young women also got to share what she had learned over the last several years and update the group on her new life. Many are now married and raising families; others are pursuing careers in healthcare, jewelry-making or other small businesses.
For Naseen, the ceremony was a chance to close out the pain of her past and celebrate the new journey she and her friends are beginning. Her smile lit up the room. And where she once struggled to feel joy, today she beams with confidence and hope.
International Justice Mission is the world’s largest anti-trafficking organization in the world. They work to protect the poor from violence in the developing world with a vision to “rescue thousands, protect millions, and prove that justice for the poor is possible." We are proud to partner with IJM and support their life-saving work.