Legal justice for 14-year-old survivor

December 26, 2023

"The fight is long and hard, but justice is waiting for your daughter.”

Riya’s* family began looking for a job for her when she was just a child. Like many others in their village in Asia, they needed their children to work in order to survive. They came across what seemed to be a wonderful opportunity for her and sent her off to start her new job with high hopes. But Riya’s family had been tricked—she was abruptly taken from her village and sold to a brothel, where she was sexually assaulted for days on end by the brothel’s customers. The trauma she experienced as just a young girl is unimaginable.

Fortunately, Riya was eventually rescued and safely reunited with her parents. Upon her return home, her family decided to pursue justice. They were assigned a lawyer and social worker associated with our local partner. At just 14 years old, Riya was testifying in court.

Pursuing justice for sex trafficking survivors may look honorable, but it is an exhausting and brutal experience for survivors of trafficking. The trafficker sent threats to the family, demanding that they withdraw the case, and Riya and her parents spent days sitting in the courtroom listening to her trafficker’s arguments for her exploitation. Day after day, they left the courthouse feeling discouraged and humiliated, unsure if they had the stamina to persevere for justice.

Feeling hopeless, tired, and discouraged, they contemplated withdrawing the case. But Riya’s lawyer encouraged her parents: "The fight is long and hard, but justice is waiting for your daughter.”

At the next court date, it was Riya’s turn to speak. It would not be easy recounting the many horrors and assaults she had experienced—in fact, it would be deeply traumatic, as she needed to face her trafficker and relive the most horrific experiences of her life. But Riya chose to stand and witness for the sake of justice. With her family, lawyer, and our local partner beside her, she chose to testify. Riya stood with courage and spoke, sharing her story. She faced her trafficker, looked him in the eye, and told him: no more. No more pain, no more hurt, no more shame.

After days of debates, the judge finally came to a decision and rejected the bail of the trafficker, sentencing him to prison for trafficking a minor for sexual exploitation. Riya’s team of lawyers and social workers then continued to fight to get all of the bails rejected at the lower courts. 

Today, Riya is 16 years old and pursuing her education. She lives with her parents and is still in touch with our partner, who continues to provide her with the support she needs. Her trafficker no longer has a hold on her. She can breathe deeply knowing she is safe and that justice won for her—and for so many other girls like her. 

So far this year, 91 traffickers have been convicted around the world because of the Atlas Free Network. But there are still many others abusing and exploiting girls just like Riya. Join us as we take on traffickers and put them behind bars. For good.

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Over the last 12 years, Atlas Free has built a global network of organizations united around a strategic framework to set people free from trafficking, disrupt traffickers, and dismantle the systems that enable sex trafficking to flourish as a profitable global business. Some call our model “collective impact,” others refer to us as a “field catalyst.” To put it simply, Atlas Free is accelerating and resourcing the fight against sex trafficking and exploitation across 26 countries and counting, and it’s working. 

*Name changed to protect the identity of the survivor.