Breaking the Cycle of Sex Trafficking & Atrocities Inside India’s Brothels with Activist Ruchira Gupta

THE SELLING OF INNOCENTS, and the fight to end sex trafficking in India is shared by Ruchira Gupta. We discuss the endemic corruption and exploitative sexual politics that have been used to oppress millions in India, and the ongoing movement to educate women and break the cycle of corruption in this eye-opening episode of Talk Show with Harper Simon.

Guest Bio

Ruchira Gupta is the Founder and President of Apne Aap Women Worldwide – a grassroots organization in India working to end sex trafficking by increasing choices for at-risk girls and women. She has striven over her 25 year career to highlight the link between trafficking and prostitution laws, and to lobby policy makers to shift blame from victims to perpetrators.

She testified in the United States Senate before the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, and she lobbied with other activists at the United Nations during the formulations for the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons — resulting in the first UN instrument to address demand for trafficking in Article 9.

In 2009 Gupta won the Clinton Global Citizen Award and in 2007 , she won the Abolitionist Award at the UK House of Lords. In 2008 and 2009, Gupta addressed the UN General Assembly on human trafficking. She won an Emmy in 1997 for her work on the documentary “The Selling of Innocents,” which inspired the creation of Apne Aap. Her work has been featured in 11 books including Half the Sky by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof.

Prior to founding Apne Aap, Gupta worked in the United Nations in various capacities in 12 countries for over ten years. She is on the board of Coalition against Trafficking in Women and the advisory councils of the Polaris Project,Vital Voices, Ricky Martin Foundation, Asia Society, Nomi Network, The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Cents for Relief. In 2012 and 2013, she designed and taught courses on human trafficking for New York University’s School of Global Affairs.


Journalist and anti-sex trafficking activist Ruchira Gupta discusses her efforts to help girls and women get out of the sex trade in India and talks about what prompted her to make a documentary on the subject, The Selling of Innocents.

Gupta said she first got involved in the issue of sex trafficking while working as a journalist and traveling in the hills of Nepal and noticed in villages a lack of girls and women from ages 15 to 45.

When she asked men in the area about this odd discovery, she said they replied that all the women and girls had gone to Bombay. “And that was really surprising to me, because these villages were so remote – they were two hours way from the highway – and Bombay was 1,400 kilometers away. So I began to look for the answer, and that answer changed my life.”

She says she then realized that the “flesh trade” had emerged in her generation in her own country. Gupta describes the typical procedure for sending young girls from poor farming families in Nepal across the border, where they were subjected to starvation, drugging and beatings for several days “until their spirits were completely subjugated.”

From there, the girls would be transported to brothels in Bombay and Calcutta. She says that certain ones – usually the youngest – would be selected by the brothel managers to be locked up and subjected to horrific conditions while still working in the sex trade.

“Then the pimps would hand over these girls to brothel managers who would lock up these little girls for five years in small rooms with iron bars on the window, and charge them out for eight customers a night, to be raped repeatedly again and again and again.”

She said that at the end of this five-year period, when they were no longer commercially viable, the girls were discarded and thrown into the street to fend for themselves.

After learning of the appalling treatment of the girls and women working in the brothels, she knew she had to try to do something about it. Since she was a journalist, she decided to tell her story through the documentary The Selling of Innocents, which she describes as a life-changing experience.

The success of the documentary also led to the formation of Gupta’s grassroots organization Apne Aap Women Worldwide, which works to end sex trafficking by increasing choices for at-risk girls and women.

She also talks about a book she co-wrote with longtime feminist movement leader Gloria SteinemAs If Women Matter – a collection of essays on feminist topics including on dealing with sex trafficking.

Gupta explains that she was contacted several years ago by Steinem before she came to India and requested a meeting. Gupta ended up taking the feminist icon on a tour of slums in Delhi, and she wasn’t sure at first how Steinem’s visit would go, but this quickly changed.

“Of course Gloria being the organizer, the activist that she is, she immediately connected with the women,” she said.
I thought the women would go back home, because we were meeting on the street. But they just stayed, because Gloria started speaking about coming to India 50 years ago to run away from a marriage that she did not want to be in.

“And she spoke about abortion and the women connected about how they had kept their abortions secret, and how having friends made them change who they were and how they connected with the world. So Gloria’s truth connected with their truth – it was one of the most important moments in my life.”

Gupta said Steinem’s writings on a variety of feminist topics are more relevant in India today than ever before, due to outrage over the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi, and subsequent changes in the law regarding women that occurred after widespread protests.