Making a difference, one child at a time

In 2016, EmancipAction and Mahima Home, in Kolkata piloted India's first Critical Recovery Center for child victims of sex trafficking. The pilot clearly demonstrated the positive impact of quality mental health care for children who have experienced extreme sexual violence associated with commercial sexual exploitation.

Scaling the model, however, would be more than challenging due to:

  • A severe shortage of trained mental health caregivers: only 2.5 clinical psychologists and 2.3 psychiatrists are available for every million people in India
  • The expensive, logistical challenge and lack of cultural competence associated with "importing" mental health care resources

  • Results of our pilot project in Kolkata, however, demonstrate that there is reason to hope. It is clear that when children's minds are set free from the mental bondage associated with their enslavement and exploitation, they can heal, and gain the tools and confidence not only to testify against their captors, but also to move forward toward a productive, restored life.


    Khemka's Story:
    How Trauma Care Builds Courage and Opens the Doors to Freedom

    Khemka initially struggled with her rescue and resisted the government authorities as they brought her into our Critical Recovery Center (CRC) at Mahima in Kolkata in early 2016. Just a teenager, she had been living with her abuser and his family and, after months of violence and indoctrination, her spirit was eventually broken and out of a need for survival and rest, she submitted to his rules and authority.

    Like many girls who make it through the "breaking" stage of trafficking, she gave up hope and no longer fought her captor. Once she surrendered to his control and the routine of being a slave, she lost her ability to see herself as a victim who needed rescue. Days of violence and nights of repeated sexual exploitation had become her normal way of life.

    As soon as she became 18, the CRC team could no longer legally detain her, so she insisted on being released on her own volition. Because her old way of life was more familiar than her newfound freedom, she was still struggling with self-doubt and the lies that her captor had repeatedly told her. Her budding, but very fragile self esteem threatened to undo all the positive growth she had been experiencing at the CRC, and she decided to leave the care center to return "home" to her captor. However, the closer she got to her captor's house, the more she realized how much she liked being away from that life. She thought about how far she had come in over the last few months of trauma care, and it was enough to make her realize on her own accord that she had the opportunity to make the most important change of her life. She decided to choose a place of freedom, where she could decide who she wanted to be and what she wanted to do not her captor.

    She immediately turned around and made her way back to Mahima to complete the program and eventually obtain gainful employment. Back at the CRC, by completing her time in the counseling program, Khemka found the strength to persevere and work towards the restoration of her life, breaking through the mental chains of her trauma.

    Khemka's victorious story shows the pivotal impact that trauma care can have in the fight against child sex trafficking. When victims receive adequate care, they build the skills and courage to rewrite their own stories.

    During our CRC pilot project, EmancipAction has served 22 children like Khemka, aged 14 to 17 and all victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

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