High-pitched screams rang out as 14 ecstatic young women ran joyfully off a hockey pitch in late February 2018, with shiny bronze medals clutched in each of their hands. They had just cinched a 7-1 victory to claim third place in their state field hockey tournament, and ran off to celebrate together as friends and teammates.
Amongst these bright field hockey champions, one player has a story of triumph all her own: 18-year-old Pavi* has grown from the despair of the sex industry to the joys of a successful young athlete—and today she’s dreaming even bigger for her future.
Though she doesn’t remember much from her childhood, Pavi does recall near-constant fear and abuse. Orphaned when she was little, Pavi became the property of a madam selling women in her Kolkata home. From a young age, she was made to clean and maintain the house as women and girls were sold for sex in the dingy rooms around her. Pavi didn’t know until later that she, too, was being groomed for this fate.
Local police and International Justice Mission (IJM) staff discovered 8-year-old Pavi when they arrived at the brothel in 2007, during a rescue operation to free another young teen who had been forced into the sex trade at the same age.
Once free from the atmosphere of exploitation, Pavi spent the next ten years in aftercare homes healing from her feelings of abandonment and the lies she had been told about her future. She struggles with deep-seeded anger but—with the help of her IJM social workers—is finding activities to channel her energy and build confidence again.
Pavi says simply, “I have had some amazing and kind didis [affectionate, sisterly term for IJM staff] who are social workers walking with me, encouraging me to pursue my dreams.”
For Pavi, the best avenue for life lessons has always been sports. In addition to karate and soccer, she was inspired by older girls at the shelter home to play field hockey and quickly became passionate about it. She wanted to be like these girls: strong, agile and a team player. At 10-years-old, she marched right up to the hockey coach and demanded to play—and she hasn’t looked back since.
Pavi got serious about her sport in 2017, when she turned 18 and had the chance to join a junior professional team. In August, her team won first place in the women’s league of her local hockey association, which was a huge boost to her confidence. She was selected for the senior district team in early 2018 and worked hard to help them secure this strong third place overall at their first major tournament in February.
“As the crowd cheered my teammates and me,” she remembers, “I couldn’t stop smiling.”
Being a successful athlete has become Pavi’s life dream. She credits her coach as her driving force and says she’s found a new sense of belonging thanks to her teammates and IJM social workers supporting her.
In the future, Pavi would like to find her parents and be part of a real family. She knows her parents would be proud of her achievements, and thinks their support would motivate her even more for the journey ahead. Outside of hockey, she loves studying math and cooking at her aftercare home.
For the time being, though, Pavi’s only focused on hockey: first gaining strength at the state level, then working up to one day represent India internationally. Her goals are many and she has miles to go, but she’s celebrating the present moment, and grateful for all she’s achieved.
She says proudly, “Instead of allowing the scars of my past to define me, I am choosing to overcome them.”
*A pseudonym has been used for the protection of this IJM client; she has given consent to share her image. Note: We should refer to Pavi as “rescued from sex trafficking” rather than as “a sex trafficking survivor.”
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.