Monday, July 01, 2013

Bringing Light to Dark Places

Twins Amy Kuruvilla and Lydia Muirhead work to alleviate sexual slavery among women through their Ruby Road Project

Photo by T.P. Sooraj

By Shevlin Sebastian

Tulasi was 17 years old when she became pregnant. The brothel owner in Bengaluru panicked. He forced her to have a medicine that killed the baby. She felt bereft and suicidal. Tulasi doused herself with kerosene, and was about to use a matchstick, when her friends intervened and saved her. She had been a prostitute for a few years. But one day, during a police raid Tulasi was rescued and brought to Ooty by the NGO, 'Freedom Firm'.

Meanwhile, the Melbourne-based Amy Kuruvilla and her twin sister, Lydia, had arrived in Ooty. They had come on a nostalgic visit. For many years, they had lived there, the children of a Malayali, Kuruvilla George, and an Englishwoman, Margaret, before the family migrated to Australia in 1995.

When Amy and Lydia saw Tulasi and other rescued women, they were deeply moved. They decided to go back and create awareness about sexual slavery.

So, they set up the Ruby Road Project. And they had particular reasons for choosing the word Ruby. “A ruby is red in colour,” says Lydia. “It signifies a red light district and also a jewel. We believe that everyone, be it a man, woman, or child is valuable. Most of the time, people don't see a person's worth.”

Which, of course, is true. There are 27 million slaves worldwide, which includes many women who have been pushed into sexual slavery. According to a 2011 United States State Department report, there are also 2 million children who have been forced into prostitution. A 2009 United Nations Report on ‘Trafficking in Persons’, based on data from 155 countries, stated that sexual trafficking generates $27.8 billion annually. 

“Sex trafficking is the ugliest man-made disaster on the globe today,” says Gary Haugen, President of the Washington-based International Justice Mission.

Amy and Lydia have a two-fold mission: to increase awareness of the worldwide sexual slavery of girls, and to put up fund-raising events so that they can give the money to small organisations who are doing the work of rescuing girls.

To aid their work, they decided to screen a documentary called ‘Nefarious – Merchant of Souls (Behind the Veil of the Sex Industry)' made by the US-based writer and director Benjamin Nolot. He travelled to 19 countries, including Cambodia, Thailand, Moldovia, Holland and Las Vegas, USA, to document the trafficking.

A Kochi screening was organised by Amy and Lydia, with the help of a NGO, ‘Raising Our Voices’.

In the 80-minute film, traffickers are shown luring young gullible girls with false promises of jobs as waitresses, models, or dancers. Soon, they are captured and brought to ‘breaking ground’ houses where the women are beaten horribly and subjected to torture. “Their bodies and spirits are broken,” says Amy. “Eventually, they become subservient to the pimps.”

Nefarious’ also traces how, because of a collapsing economy in Moldovia, about 10 per cent of the population was trafficked. In places like the US, women become hookers for the easy money, while in Thailand and Cambodia, it is considered okay by parents if their children partake in sexual activities with paedophiles.

In Cambodia, Amy and Lydia met the American Don Brewster and his wife, Bridget, who have set up an organisation called 'Agape International Missions', in Svay Pak village, which is near Phnom Penh. 

“In 2007, 97 per cent of the children in this area were used for prostitution,” says Amy. “It is a place where paedophiles from all over the world come to have sex with a child.” But now, thanks to Don’s efforts, it is down to 70 per cent. He has set up a prevention centre, where he provides education to the children. 

Meanwhile, in Kochi, Amy and Lydia were glad to see that the film had an impact. “Most of the people who came to the event were not aware of the extent of sex trafficking across the globe, so it was an eye-opening experience for them,” says Lydia. “We hope that this wave of awareness will spread all over the country.”

Monolita Chatterjee, a member of 'Raising Our Voices', agreed that it was an eye-opener. “It was also a hard-hitting film,” she says. Homemaker Anood Abdul Jaleel felt the documentary was shocking and enlightening at the same time. “It was a warning to us parents that we should take good care of our children,” she says. “I felt a desire to contribute to organisations which are helping these rescued girls.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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