KOLKATA, INDIA – Spring break at the American Center in Kolkata is a long distance and a far cry from the beaches of South Padre Island.
But eight students from Texas Christian University and their lead professor, Vanessa Bouché, decided to spend spring break at the International Youth Champions Anti-Trafficking in Persons Conclave.
The date of the conference – March 13-16 – was set specifically to match TCU’s spring break so the students could serve as facilitators for other university students from India, Nepal and Bangladesh on ways to raise the issue of human trafficking on their campuses and in their communities.
It was the eighth annual anti-trafficking in persons conclave, and U.S. Consul General Patti Hoffman singled out Bouché and “her TCU student activists” in her opening remarks.
The U.S. Consulate General Kolkata hosted the event with its partner, Shakti Vahini, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to leading India’s fight against human trafficking.
Over the four-day conference, the TCU students led workshops on campus activism, community activism and professional activism.
On the final day, the students and the groups they met with described the plans they had made for campus and community activities to raise awareness of the issue over the next six months.
“The anti-TIP Youth Champions Conclave is the consulate’s eighth international gathering of stakeholders dedicated to one goal, ending human trafficking,” Hoffman said.
Human trafficking cannot be solved by one country alone or by any single entity, she said, echoing comments from other government and NGO representatives.,
“Governments, NGOs, police, the judiciary, private sector, and many others must work together to end modern-day slavery. Our hope is that this conclave, like others before, provides the venue for us to gather and work on solutions together,” Hoffman said.
Bouché is an associate professor of political science at TCU and has been a principal investigator on several federally funded human trafficking projects with the U. S. Department of Justice and the Agency for International Development.
Bouché began taking students to India in 2014 as part of a study-abroad program on transnational human trafficking and she developed a close relationship with Shakti Vahini.
Among other things, Shakti Vahini runs a medical clinic that provides free services to women in prostitution on GB Road, the main red-light district in Delhi. The NGO has taken Bouché and more than 25 students since 2014 to meet with women stuck in the brothels, roughly 90 percent of whom were trafficked there between the ages of 13 and 15.
Bouché and her husband, Noel, have started a freedom business in Delhi named Savhera, a name selected by the women the organization is working with from the brothels. It means “new beginning” in Hindi.
The idea is to hire women trying to break out of trafficking so they can earn a living while the transition from that life to a more promising one.
The TCU group spent several days in Delhi, attending a wedding for one of the Savhera employees, visiting the organization’s headquarter near GB Road and helping paste labels on some the the essential oils the company intends to market to help the women support themselves.
Ravi Kant, the president of Shakti Vahini, says there are 118 brothels with almost 4,000 women in buildings lining the street.
One tuk-tuk driver refused a fare to the area because he considered it to be too dangerous.
The area, he says, and been a concentration for brothels for perhaps a hundred years, including under British colonial rule. The numbers are dropping as traffickers switch to cyber sites to avoid arrests, Kant said.
Bouché gave a brief history of her growing interest in trafficking at the opening session.
She started college in 1997, which she described as “a seminal year for the anti-trafficking movement for two reasons.
“One, it was the year that Dr. Kevin Bales published a seminal book on modern-day slavery called Disposable People and it’s in that book that we have the very first estimate of the number of slaves that still exist in the world today, and his estimate was 27 million. The most recent report that was released by the International Labour Organization last year said that that number is probably closer to 40.3 million people in the world today.”
In her studies, she wondered how she would have reacted to and been involved in earlier social movements.
“And I didn’t know the answer to those questions if I was going to be completely honest with myself. Because I knew that to answer in the affirmative that I would be participating in movements that were upending an entire economic system, upending thousands of years of male privilege, upending thousands of years of white privilege of which I benefit,” Bouché said.
“That means that joining these movements is very dangerous, and it means joining movements in which many people were paying with their lives. It would mean joining movements where you would be mocked, where you would be ridiculed. It would mean joining movements in which my comfort and ease of a privileged life would be disrupted,” she said.
Bouché started her work on the issue in earnest in about 2008.
“It’s been a winding road with many experiences that I could have never anticipated, including this one here today. So, my hope is that you all leave here inspired. My hope is that you all leave here with a vision for change, knowing that you can be that change. My hope is that you leave here empowered – empowered to lead others to pursue a path that advances human rights and puts others before yourself,” she said.
Speakers in a number of different sessions emphasized the difficulty of dealing with human trafficking, particularly when women and children are involved.
In many cases, adjudications fall in a number of different departments in police organizations, and there is a lack of rehabilitation programs that help women who are forced into sex work to transition out because they are highly stigmatized in some cultures regardless of whether they had a choice.
One benefit of the trip was instant connections on Facebook among students and other participants, allowing worldwide immediate contact among persons passionate about dealing with human trafficking.
No spring break trip would be complete without a little trauma – and that came for Bouché and a most of the student with a 15-hour delay by Air India at Chicago.
That caused part of the group to miss the first of two celebrations of the wedding.
They were also delayed at Chicago on the return – and ended up driving back to Fort Worth.
The TCU student leaders – all of whom studied under Bouché – were:
– Austin Boyles, a senior political science major and vice president of International Justice Mission (IJM) at TCU, a campus chapter of the anti-slavery organization. He volunteers with a Fort Worth anti-trafficking organization. He’s a recipient of the TCU Political Science Department’s Brown Undergraduate Research Award and played baseball at TCU for three years.
– Kyle Hepting, a sophomore studying finance and Spanish. He’s vice president of campus outreach for campus IJM and volunteers at the NET, a Fort Worth nonprofit that assists with trafficking survivors.
– Londyn Bull, a senior child development major who visited Delhi in 2017 on a study-abroad program to study transnational human trafficking. She’s involved in campus IJM and has worked for a Fort Worth anti-trafficking organization.
– Hannah Eberts, a senior studying speech language pathology and child development. She’s involved with campus IJM and interned with a Fort Worth anti-trafficking organization. She will be moving to Kolkata after graduation to intern at an anti-trafficking NGO.
– Caroline Jones, a senior studying political science and graphic design. She studied in India, is president of the campus IJM and interned last summer at the IJM headquarters in Washington, D.C. She will move to Kolkata after graduation on a Fulbright appointment.
– Jeanne Marie King, a sophomore studying early childhood education with English as a second language and special education. She’s vice president for advocacy and fundraising for the campus IJM.
– Madelyn Carter, a second-year law student at Georgetown University in Washington who has a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial management with a minor in political science from TCU. She studied abroad in India. During law school, she has interned at the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit of the U.S. Department of Justice and at the Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. She gave a TEDxTCU talk about sex trafficking in Fort Worth.
– Madelein Bailey, in her last year of law school at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, following TCU. She has been studying human trafficking since a 2015 study-abroad program in India. She was cofounder of the TCU IJM chapter and worked as a researcher for HumanTraffickingData.org for several years.