As a young girl in Kultali, India, Lata went further in school than most girls in her village. But at 16 years old, her education was cut short she married a boy who sold her to a brothel two months after their wedding. She felt like she had no future.
Fortunately, Lata escaped sex trafficking. And now she’s fighting back, by becoming a lawyer through a new specialized program in India.
The School for Justice, which just opened on April 6, educates survivors of sex trafficking to pursue careers in law. Eventually, these women plan to use their degrees to prosecute traffickers like the ones who abused them.
“Becoming a lawyer is my dream, and bringing justice to those responsible for forced child prostitution is my goal,” Lata said. “I want to punish the men who did this to me.”
The school is the result of a partnership between Free A Girl Movement, an international organization that works to free girls from sex trafficking, and one of the top law schools in India. During their studies, the women will live at the law school, the name of which remains undisclosed due to security concerns.
“I want to punish the men who did this to me.”
There are 19 women in the inaugural class, all between the ages of 19 and 26. They’ll take classes to prepare for law exams, and receive tutoring and mentoring to ensure success.
The entire program is expected to take five to six years for each girl to complete. The women will graduate with law degrees, with a special focus on commercial sexual exploitation cases.
These are real girls who have been through highly traumatizing experiences and had lives that we could hardly imagine,” Bas Korsten, one of the project’s founders, told Adweek. They are determined to succeed in their ambition to become lawyers, with the power to prosecute the criminals who once owned them.”
India has the largest number of people in human trafficking globally. Though it’s hard to know the exact scope of sex trafficking due to the illicit nature of the practice, the U.N. estimates that there are 3 million sex workers in India. An estimated 40 percent of those sex workers are trafficked children, mostly girls from ethnic minorities and lower castes.
According to Free A Girl, few traffickers are convicted because the cases are often dropped, due to lack of evidence and a lack of lawyers specializing in sexual exploitation. In 2015, only 55 cases led to convictions throughout the entire country.
The idea was conceptualized by marketing and communications agency J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam, where Korsten is creative director, after Free A Girl approached them to create a brief awareness campaign aimed at Indian men. The creative team was inspired to push the idea further, eventually landing on the ambitious idea of starting a law school for sex trafficking survivors.
“There have been serious threats, which is also the reason why were not disclosing the location of the school.”
“In close collaboration with [Free A Girl], we worked out the educational program, looked for a physical space, selected the first class of girls, and built the campaign around it,” Korsten said.
Although the campaign was dreamed up by an ad agency, Korsten told Adweek the school is more than a “gesture” or an advertising campaign it’s not a “launch and abandon” kind of project. In fact, there are plans to open a School for Justice in Brazil in the near future.
Creating a school for survivors of sex trafficking, however, doesn’t come without risk especially when you’re training women to disrupt an illegal trade. But it’s a risk the girls have faced with courage, determined to fight back against the sex trafficking industry.
“There have been serious threats, which is also the reason why we’re not disclosing the location of the school,” Korsten said. “But we believe the first class will inspire many others.