BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When University at Buffalo School of Social
Work doctoral candidate Bincy Wilson tried to rescue teenage women
from sexual trade slavery working the streets of Goa, India, she
was the frequent target of threats made by the pimps -- some of
them family members of the women -- whose livelihood relied on
keeping these women in sexual servitude.
"Threats, oh yes, they were part of the job," says Wilson, who
recently finished two international conferences in which she
presented on the need for trans-cultural holistic interventions for
women exiting the sex trade, and the traumatic experiences of women
in the trade. "You don't stay put fearing for your own life when
there is a need to rescue others. We worked in this field because
we were passionate about what we did, and the smile of hope on the
emancipated victims' faces is worth the risk taken."
Wilson, 27, has tapped into the experiences of her young life
for her study at UB. A native of Bangalore, India, Wilson spent
three years in Goa assisting women in finding alternatives to
working in the sex trade. More recently as a therapist at "SAGE,"
an agency with a similar mission in San Francisco, she was able to
address the traumatization in this prostitute population -- which
has fueled her interest and sense of urgency in her research.
She intends to use the knowledge gained from her research to
help organizations develop good interventions and other ways to
provide services to victims of sex trafficking.
Essential in Wilson's research is the fact that sex trafficking
is both a worldwide and dramatically increasing problem. A 2010
report prepared by the U.S. Department of State Government
concluded the numbers of people -- mostly women -- involved in
human trafficking had increased by 59 percent in the past two
years. The International Labor Organization estimates that there
are at least 12.3 million adults and children who are trafficked
for forced labor, bonded labor and sex trade. And the problem
extends across the globe, from developed to developing countries,
according to Wilson's research.
"Sex trafficking is a global social justice issue," Wilson said
in her presentation, "Developing Interventions for Women Exiting
the Sex Trade: Societal Perspectives," that she and Barbara
Rittner, associate dean for external affairs in the UB School of
Social Work, delivered at the annual Conference on Human
Trafficking, Prostitution and Sex Work held at the University of
Toledo. "Whatever attention it receives is driven by the rapidly
increasing numbers of people being trafficked internationally and
by (medical and health) concerns about sexually transmitted disease
such as HIV/AIDS associated with the trade."
"Working with Bincy created an important shift in my thinking,"
says Rittner. "Most of my work has been with children in foster
care in the states, many of whom had mothers in the sex trade, and
many of my female adolescent foster children were runaways
recruited into the sex trade from the streets.
"The work Bincy and I are doing has helped me think differently
about how women enter the trade, why they stay in the trade and why
what works in the West to encourage exit may not be workable in the
East or subcontinent India. This is what makes working with
international doctoral students so exciting."
Wilson's two academic presentations, including a recent
presentation in Atlanta, tapped into her unique mix of scholarly
expertise and experiences. They were lessons from the years she and
her coworkers intervened in the lives of young women -- many still
in their teens -- trying to escape lives of prostitution and
exploitation from pimps, who sometimes were their husbands and
family members. She was program manager at an Indian organization
Arz, which translates to "Life Without Injustice," in the Indian
coastal city of Goa where she worked as a counselor rehabilitating
young women forced to work in the sex trade for money.
"You see exploitation of these women in every way," says Wilson,
who came to Buffalo with her husband who also enrolled in a
doctoral program at UB. "Not only is the trauma associated with
their experience while in the sex trade, but it is also attached to
their past, even before they enter the trade. Most of them are
coming from lives of abuse, neglect and abject poverty, situations
in which they do not have a square meal or basic resources.
"The debilitating impact of being in the sex trade is visible
not only when they are in the sex trade, but also when they are
trying to exit the trade. You find them getting addicted to drugs
or alcohol in order to cope with the experience of sexual trauma,
their health takes a major toll on them with multiple abuses,
abortions, miscarriages, menstrual and gynecological problems. Most
of the girls suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
complex PTSD, dissociation, depression, suicide attempts and severe
anxiety. They experience difficulty having a normal relationship
because of their traumatic sexual experience. When they are in a
relationship with someone they love, it becomes difficult for them
to get intimate due to the sexual trauma experienced while in the
trade. They are often viewed as mere sexual objects by men, and
none care to know who they really are within."
While working for three years as a program manager in Goa,
Wilson helped establish an automatic laundry to give the sex trade
workers an alternative for making a living and a chance to be
together for support. She and her coworkers saw many success
stories, she says, but it's the failed ones that often linger most
in her mind.
Three years ago, when she was 24, Wilson was working to
rehabilitate women working in the sex trafficking business in the
infamous red light district of Goa, a traditional destination for
Indians and international jetsetters. Thanks to their close ties to
the community, Wilson's colleagues heard about a young girl
accompanied by a man who had recently come to town, and the
community identified the man as the girl's husband.
A staff member brought the couple into Wilson's office, and the
husband told workers how they came from a poor background and were
in desperate need of money; that's why the girl was working as a
prostitute. Wilson's colleagues offered the cooperative laundromat
as an alternative, and at the same time contacted police to
prosecute the husband for trafficking his wife.
But there were delays in getting the police involved, Wilson
remembers. "The man wanted to leave and not have anything to do
with us," she says. "Then he said he wanted to take the girl to the
doctor. So I said I wanted to accompany them to the doctor. And he
kept insisting on me leaving on the way. But I knew once they left,
we would not have any trace of where they were going.
"I started going along with them. And the girl kept insisting I
leave because the husband was pressuring her and telling me to
leave. All the time, my colleagues were trying to get the
magistrate and anti-trafficking unit to come and catch these
On the way to the doctor's, the man said he needed to stop at
his house because they needed to get something there. So Wilson
waited outside and watched while the two went inside. "They exited
through the back door of the house," Wilson says. "By the time the
anti-trafficking force came, they had already escaped and we had no
trace of them."
Wilson never saw either of them again.
"I keep seeing that picture of the girl's face in my mind,"
Wilson says. "Even now when I talk about it, I have a very strong
image of that girl looking so helpless and asking me to leave. She
had this look of fear, not only for herself but also for me, for
something happening to me, because I was traveling alone with
"She was very young, obviously a minor, very small build. She
had this jazzy lipstick on, trying to make her as attractive and
marketable as possible."
There are other stories, some much more successful. Wilson knows
her very first rescue victim is doing well. "She's getting married,
she has a baby girl," she says. "The last time I was in Goa I saw
her. It's really nice to see them leading a better life, one that
is not exploitative."
Success or disappointment, what she saw on the streets remains a
major motivation in her work at UB.
"Research is a product of my experience and the time working in
the field," says Wilson. "Whatever services are provided, something
is still missing because I see some women relapsing back into the
same life. I am really interested in exploring that missing
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