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WEARING JASMINE flowers in her hair and dressed like she was going to church, 23-year-old Jyoti (not her real name) seems eager to please. At the same time, she appears agitated, anxious to leave a good impression. Jyoti doesn't remember her parents. She grew up in an orphanage in the coastal town of Pondicherry, in southern India. She failed her exams when she was 17, and the overseeing nuns forced her to drop out and take up cooking three meals a day for younger children in the orphanage.

"I was sick one day and refused to cook," she says. "The sister asked me to leave. I didn't know where to go or what to do. I took my bags and went to the beach. I sat there crying by myself. A lady and two men approached and asked what the matter was. I explained that I was alone. They told me they would find me a job as a maid. I said I needed a job and would do whatever they wanted."

Jyoti's story is typical and reflects the subtleties that make sex trafficking so difficult to grasp and yet so insidious. Traffickers prey upon women and children who, like her, find themselves vulnerable and afraid. They took her to a "lodge," which Jyoti later discovered was a brothel.

"Sometimes during sex the condom would tear and I was forced into it without a condom," Jyoti says. "I would be in a lot of pain. I didn't know anything called AIDS. When I complained, the ammas [madam] asked me, 'Why did you come here, then?' If I cried she'd say, 'Don't pretend to cry. Even if you cry your lungs out you can't leave.' One time I started vomiting after meals. The owner forced me to drink beer and use paan parag [chewing tobacco] while I was with men. I kept puking every time I had a drink. I realized I was pregnant. The amma told me I was a liar and that ...

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The Hidden Slavery
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In the Magazine

November 2003

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