"You Are Never Truly Free" Social Stigma in India and its Impact Upon Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Advocacy for Survivors of Sex Trafficking
This research examines how social stigmas related to sex work and sexual activity in India contribute to the creation of environments conducive to gender discrimination and the erosion of female rights. It seeks to understand, through the work of anti-trafficking staff and the lived experience of sex trafficking survivors in Kolkata, how this subsequently impacts survivors' ability to be successfully rehabilitated and reintegrated into their communities. Human trafficking directly limits the human rights and freedoms which development aims to facilitate and realise; it is fundamentally a development concern. Violations of human rights are a cause and a consequence of trafficking in persons, making their universal promotion and protection relevant to anti-trafficking. Females constitute 80 per cent of all sex trafficking victims, demonstrating that it is a significantly gendered crime. India is home to 40 per cent of the estimated global slave population, and operates as a destination, transit and origin country for all forms of human trafficking. This research involved semi-structured interviews focused on experiences and understandings of social stigma with eight staff of the anti-trafficking NGO Sanlaap, one staff member of a partnering Government-run shelter home, and one focus group with eight sex trafficking survivors. Data were analysed thematically through concepts of human rights, social stigma, gender discrimination and vulnerability. The results indicated that prioritising the protection and promotion of their human rights was integral to Sanlaap's success in rehabilitating and reintegrating survivors. This research, therefore, reinforces conceptual links between human rights violations and sex trafficking, and argues that preventative action needs to have a more central role in current anti-trafficking efforts. The results demonstrate that stigma is a manifestation of power, which enables the subordination and displacement of vulnerable groups, reinforces inequality and power imbalances, and continues to undermine survivor rights to reintegration. This study also highlights where there is a need to advance discourse about cultural rights and sexuality within anti-trafficking work in India, and to implement broader approaches to women's development as part of sex trafficking prevention strategies.