Sunitha Krishnan – Rape Survivor Who Has Saved 18,000 People From Human Trafficking

  • India is said to be the center of human trafficking in the Asia continent.
  • As per the government data – every 8 minutes a child goes missing in the country.
  • In 2011, over thirty-five thousand children were reported missing. Around 11,000 of these reports were from West Bengal.
  • South Indian states are the most sought after destinations for human trafficking.
  • An article in Firstpost noted that Delhi is the core of human trafficking mafia in the country. It is the hotspot for illegal dealing of young girls for domestic labor, forced marriage, and prostitution.
  • Taken from their homes, girls and young women are and sold in faraway states of India for sexual exploitation.
  • Under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, the misdeed is penalized. The punishment ranges from 7 years’ to life imprisonment. The bonded and child labor is also strictly prohibited in India.
  • However, because of widespread corruption and failure in administration, the syndicate of trafficking continues to exist and operate, endangering the lives of countless
  • Almost 20,000 women and children trafficked in India in 2016.

While the system failed to check this horrible crime, it came on the shoulders of the people who felt the gravity of the issue, who had been through similar suffering in life, to safeguard ladies and girls from the human vultures who prey on their body and soul at once. Once gang-raped by eight men when 15, Sunitha Krishnan decided to fight back and help trafficked women to find shelter. Seeing the silence surrounding the sex-trafficking epidemic, Sunitha Krishnan co-founded Prajwala, a non-profit organization that rescues women from the clutches of whore-houses and educates their children to prevent them from indulging in the same shameful business. In her ardent struggle to stop the horrific syndicate, Krishnan has sparked India’s anti-trafficking movement. It is her selfless and dedicated effort to safeguard and rehabilitate affected girls and children that the last year the government honored her with the Padma Shri, the 4th top civilian award of India.


Early Years

Krishnan was born in 1972 to a humble family. Coming from Bangalore, she had the opportunity to see many places while traveling with her father, who worked with the Department of Survey.

Krishnan’s passion for social work was evident from a very early age. At 8, she used to teach dance to mentally challenged children. By 12, she started teaching underprivileged children. As her social activities grew, she became a target for the anti-social elements who could not withstand her works. At a mere age of 15, while working on a literacy campaign, Krishnan was raped by eight men. However, it did not deteriorate her courage, instead prompted her to do an extra bit.

Krishnan studied in government schools in Bangalore and Bhutan. After obtaining doing bachelor’s in Environmental Sciences from St. Joseph’s in Bangalore, Krishnan did MSW (medical & psychiatric) from the School of Social Work Roshni Nilaya.

Career as a Social Activist

By 1996, Krishnan had become an ardent activist. A protest was called against the staging of the Miss World contest in the city. As she had a leadership role in organizing the protest, Krishnan was arrested along with many others and was sent to judicial custody for a couple of months.

Krishnan was associated with Varghese Theckanath, a Catholic religious brother, and activist, who founded People’s Initiative Network (PIN) in Hyderabad to work for the upliftment of slums. After her released from jail, Krishnan found that her parents were no more supportive of her choices. To start afresh, Krishnan moved to Hyderabad and joined PIN as the coordinator for the program for ladies. When the slum houses by the city’s Musi River were slated to be cleared, she participated in the housing rights campaign of PIN. Many demonstrations followed, and the plan got stalled.

Setting up her organization – Prajwala

In 1996, sex workers living in a red light area in Hyderabad were evacuated. However, the government did nothing for their rehabilitation and thousands of women, who were caught in the clutches of prostitution, were now left homeless.

By that time, Krishnan had become familiar with Brother Jose Vetticatil, who was then the director of a Catholic institution that rehabilitated and trained young people by providing them vocational skills that helped them to settle.

Along with Brother Jose, Krishnan started a school at the vacated brothel to prevent the next generation from being trafficked. Due to lack of support, Krishnan invested herself by selling her jewelry and even most of her household utensils.

Now, Prajwala is an established organization, rehabilitating and advocating for thousands of victims. The group extends moral, financial, legal and social support to victims and ensures that justice has been provided correctly. On a rough estimation, Prajwala has rescued and rehabilitated more than twelve thousand survivors of sex trafficking, and the extent of their operations makes them the largest anti-trafficking shelter in the world.

It is the energy and optimism of Krishnan that she has been able to set up one of the most active anti-trafficking networks. She does not only monitor but also mentor her staff in all spheres of work and life. Her enduring hope, passion, and constant resistance to reach goals set for Prajwala inspire her team to stay focused on the mission too.

At present, the organization’s “second-generation prevention program” operates in 17 centers and has helped put a stop to thousands of children of prostituted mothers from entering the same hell. Prajwala also runs a shelter home for rescued individuals. Krishnan is not only the leader of these interventions but is also the spearhead of an economic rehabilitation program which offers professional courses to survivors that would help them to get jobs.

Prajwala has over two hundred employees, with Krishnan as the most active and full-time volunteer. Along with help from her husband, she supports herself by writing books and giving speeches on trafficking worldwide. She is married to Mr. Rajesh, who happens to be a filmmaker and has made many films in collaboration with Prajwala.

Working with other institutions

In the early 2000s, Krishnan worked on drafting commendations for rehabilitation of victims of sex trafficking in Andhra Pradesh. The state government later passed the draft as a Policy for Rescue & Rehabilitation of Victims of Trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. Many other provinces now following Krishnan’s strategies to design similar rescue schemes.

Krishnan served as the advisor, and later as Honorary Director, for Kerala’s “Nirbhaya Policy for Women and Children” to fight sexual abuse and trafficking. The plan, initially outlined by Krishnan, is coordinated by various government departments in collaboration with NGOs.

As a part of Andhra Pradesh State Women’s Commission, Krishnan contributed to the country’s new bill on rape, which was passed in 2013 to increase punitive measures for cases of sexual violence.


Further involvements

Having firsthand experience of many raids, Krishnan realized that without a significant state policy, no amount of social work at the micro-level is enough. She, therefore, forged partnerships with various police departments, especially Women Protection Cell, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit. Krishnan formed the first Crises Counseling Centre in Afzalgunj Police Station–a Police-NGO collaboration to battle sex trafficking more efficiently. Working with Andhra Pradesh government in cracking down on this organized crime, she has helped to catch more than a hundred perpetrators.

Krishnan has also conducted workshops for thousands of officials and welfare committee members to provide them with the basic understanding and skills to effectively handle cases of human trafficking and advocate for child-friendly courts.

In another leading move, she initiated the #ShameTheRapist movement which was taken as a ‘suo motto’ case in the Supreme Court and has highlighted for the first time the unbearable development of filming and circulating rape videotapes. Even, it has prompted the CBI to investigate the videos that Sunitha Krishnan submitted to the apex court.

Engaging with masses through Media

In 2009, Krishnan gave an exhorting speech during TED India conference about the cause of human trafficking. Her appearance on the TV show “Satyamev Jayate” was instrumental in garnering sufficient funds for her enterprise as well as also making contacts to expand her social work.

Krishnan has also exploited film arts as a tool for highlighting social issues such as HIV/AIDS, Sheikh marriages, incest, prostitution, trafficking, communal conflicts, etc.

Of the films Krishnan has been involved in, Anamika and Naa Bangaaru Talli have been widely acclaimed. Besides receiving big awards, Anamika has been added to the curricula of the National Police Academy. Naa Bangaaru Talli has bagged three National Awards and some international awards as well.

She has also published researches and writings related to social problems. The Shattered Innocence and From Despair to Hope are two commonly mentioned works among her other writings.

Attempts on her life

Krishnan has been physically assaulted time and again and has received death threats as well. A Sumo Van once rammed her auto rickshaw, but she escaped serious injury. On one occasion, she narrowly evaded an acid attack. An attempt to poison her was also carried out, though unsuccessfully.

In 2012, a misinformed mob of young Muslims staged a roguish demonstration in front of its school. Their leader also gave life threats to Krishnan and warned to close all her other centers.


For her extraordinarily brave work as an anti-trafficking crusader, Sunitha Krishnan has received much praise from all over the world. She has got numerous awards to her credit. Among the famous ones are Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report Heroes from US Department of State, 2009; CNN-IBN Real Hero Award, 2008; Outstanding Woman Award, National Commission for Women, 2013; Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice, 2014; and Franco-German Award for Human Rights & Rule of Law. Krishnan has got a Padma Shri in the field of Social Work.


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