Passersby might never have suspected what was happening within the walls of an everyday Kolkata hotel until anti-trafficking police arrived on February 21 with a shocking revelation: Girls and young women were being sold for sex to private customers, all organized through a highly secretive trafficking network making thousands off their abuse.
On Wednesday afternoon, officers from the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) initiated a rescue operation at the hotel with help from IJM Kolkata and local government officials. They rescued six victims being sold for sex there, including two minor girls.
Police arrested 12 suspects tied to the trafficking ring, including three female accomplices, six employees and three customers. AHTU officers seized more than 200,000 rupees (about $3,000) and additional evidence to build a case against the alleged traffickers. They filed initial charges against the accused under India’s anti-trafficking and child protection laws.
This type of trafficking racket—operating at a private hotel rather than in a traditional red-light district or brothel—has become increasingly common as criminals try to evade suspicion. IJM’s 2016 prevalence study in Kolkata found that brothels and public sex establishments have a low prevalence of minors (about 0.8%), but make up a higher proportion in private networks (about 18.5%).
“In the past few years, West Bengal state police and Kolkata police have been conducting raids at private establishments including hotels and private residences. Sexual exploitation of children can be difficult to track in such places,” says Saji Philip, IJM’s director of operations in Kolkata. “Hotel operators must keep close vigilance of criminals perpetrating commercial sexual exploitation of children [within their premises].”
The six survivors rescued from this hotel have been placed in a short-term shelter home for crisis care and initial rehabilitation. IJM and government social workers will work on individual treatment plans for each survivor to begin a trauma-informed aftercare program.