TRIGGER WARNING: This week’s post contains information about sexual assault, child abuse, and violence and may be disturbing to some readers.
Since I started Femme-spiration, I’ve written about women who have worked from rags to riches, women who have given a new meaning to the word ‘strength’, and women who have used their privileges to help those struggling with confidence and success.
This week’s Femme-spiration will take us into the dark underbelly of society of which we seldom speak—sex trafficking. Many aren’t knowledgeable in the field to be able to help, many choose to ignore it and live in blissful denial. This is a worldwide epidemic, and today’s Femme-spiration is doing more than her part to eradicate it from her country of India.
Sunitha Krishnan is the unsung hero who has dedicated her life to help rehabilitate sex trafficked and rape victims back into society. She is the co-founder of ‘Prajwala‘, an anti-trafficking organization based in Telangana, India with 200 employees, 70% of whom are survivors themselves. Prajwala has been helping exploited women and children for over 20 years, and who better to understand the plight of the victims than Krishnan-a victim herself.
At the age of 15, Krishnan was gang-raped by eight men. As is with many rape victims, she was ostracized because she was a victim. In India, although the times are slowly changing, rape victims are treated as outcasts to the point that women are shunned by their families and communities, they’re considered unsuitable for marriage, and are forced to believe that the only way they’ll ever live a normal life is if they never speak of the incident again. Krishnan, determined not to let eight spineless rapists dictate the rest of her life, used her experience as an impetus for the work that she does today.
In her harrowing TED Talk on the fight against sex slavery, Krishnan opens our eyes to the reality of sex slavery in India. Girls as young as three years old are sold as property in exchange for alcohol, drugs, porn, or cash. 65,000 children below the age of 16 are trafficked each year. 18 million women and children are involved in sex slavery through threats, deception, or coercion.
Krishnan has rescued over 20,000 girls, each with a violent, unimaginable past. Prajwala shelters these women whose family, if they have one, would kill them in the name of honor but wouldn’t support their rehabilitation.
Where does rehabilitation begin for women and children who are considered disposable? Krishnan started by using her experience with isolation to empathize with the rescued victims, and began tapping into their potential. Today, with Krishnan and Prajwala‘s help, Prajwala‘s residents are on their way to rehabilitation and reintegration into society by working as welders, masons, and some even pursuing education. But Krishnan’s success has come with a heavy price.
Krishnan has been physically beaten up by traffickers more than 14 times in her life, resulting in loss of hearing in her right ear and a bad back. She has lost a staff member who was murdered while on a rescue mission. She has had acid flung at her–an attack she luckily escaped–and was even the target of a poisoning attempt.
Despite countless obstacles, Krishnan has refuses to give up on those stigmatized by society. She has started other campaigns like ‘Shame the Rapist‘ where she seeks social media’s help in identifying rapists who post and circulate videos of their crime as trophies. She also started the first ever Crises Counseling Centre in Afzalgunj police station, and has successfully convicted over 150 traffickers after convincing the government of Andhra Pradesh to work with her.
I could go on and on about Sunitha Krishnan. The work that she has done and will continue doing promises a safer society for women and children in India and hopefully the world.
If you would like to help Krishnan’s efforts or know more about her, you can donate to her organization ‘Prajwala‘ , watch her TED Talks here and her InkTalk here, follow her blog, and watch interviews here, here, and here.