International Princess Project follows a model of social entrepreneurship. Can you tell us about this business approach and how it is designed to help others?
The social entrepreneurship system fills a vital gap by ensuring rescue efforts result in more than a temporary safe haven, but in stable, permanent liberation for women and a decrease in sex-trafficking. We want to teach the women that they are not dependent on charity to restore their lives. We definitely appreciate all the donations people give to help keep IPP running and support the women, but they ladies also know that they earn wages the same way any other person would. The ladies have the opportunity to take control of their futures instead of waiting for the next charity check to come in. By learning a trade in a viable business, the ladies are less likely to re-enter prostitution.
What is the current state of the women in India and what are some practical ways young women in America can help?
Currently over three million women and girls work as prostitutes on the streets of India. It is hard for American women to imagine the gravity of this fact, because the prostitution that happens in the U.S. is largely hidden. Our government has its problems, but at least it is a stable enough system to value, for the most part, the obliteration of prostitution rings, especially when they involve children. Unfortunately, many Indian officials turn their heads to the problem of sex trafficking in India. Many women are taken advantage of by police officers — the very people who ought to be protecting their freedom and rights. The situation is further complicated by the caste system in India — the belief that certain individuals are more valuable than others and given more opportunities because of the families into which they were born. The culture can specifically be difficult for women, who often have to rely on a man to vouch for them in order to have any voice in society. Driven by extreme poverty and lack of opportunities, women and young girls might begin sex work to survive. HIV/AIDS and other diseases take their lives at devastatingly early ages. All of these women suffer hardship and abuse beyond imagination.
Just going to India is an unusual experience. The first time I went, I had heard so many stories about what to expect, what not to expect, and to expect the unexpected. Laura, our Executive Director, told me that once you get to India, you realize that all your senses have been on mute, and suddenly they switch to full-volume when you step off that plane. She also told me you cannot go to India and return the same. You can’t see the sex trafficking and forget it. “You can’t see this and do nothing,” she said. This is true. Our experiences in India are even more unusual because we spend most of our days seeing the India that tourists do not see. It is even different than going on a short-term mission trip to India, where a team pops in and pops out. We are committed to building lasting relationships with our Indian partners and with the women they rescue. They know that when we say goodbye, it is only for a few months. We will be back.
India is a beautiful country, full of brilliant, kind, hospitable people. Just like any other country, however, it has an underbelly. Because Americans mostly hear about the glamorous parts of India, most people envision the Vanity Fair version of India, full of dancing girls and Taj Mahals and elephant rides. When IPP visits, we typically stay with the ladies at the centers, or we visit friends and stay with them in the red-light districts, where they are doing their work. In Kolkata, where we visited a friend who works with a similar organization called Freeset, there were an estimated 10,000 prostitutes in the kilometers surrounding her home. I live in Newport Beach, California, which is one of the wealthiest cities in the U.S. It is such an incredible contrast to, within a few days, go from one place to the other. It is jarring, both going and coming back. Even with globalization and the internet, we Americans are generally so separated from what happens in the rest of the world. All of it is unusual to us. We don’t understand how a woman could be sold into prostitution and be forced to remain there because she has no voice. Even after being there twice, it is easy for me to forget the countenances of the women sitting outside the brothels, waiting for customers, working the line. That doesn’t happen much here, or at least we don’t have to see it. And when it does happen, the women at least have more of a chance of finding freedom, because this is America, and we value the American dream. People have more of an opportunity here to rise above their circumstances if they are determined to. In India, especially for a woman, that is not the case. I am a product of American culture, and this fact is so unusual to me, so hard for me to stomach. It is crazy to think that one of those ladies could have been me. She could have been any of us.If IPP could share one message with today’s modern woman, what would you say?
Each person’s involvement in the fight against human trafficking is absolutely vital. Modern slavery is even more wide-spread than slavery at the time of the Civil Rights Movement. And even though the abolition of slavery is credited to many famous individuals throughout the course of many years, it was really the general population who rose up before these individuals and created a pathway for them to speak. They created a movement that demanded a high-profile leader, like Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. It will be exciting to see the fight against human trafficking in the next ten years, but we need the help of everyone to prepare the way for the individuals who will be the prominent voices against modern slavery. Our message is exactly what we tell our rescued women: You matter. Your voice matters.