Sonagachi is the largest red-light district in Kolkata, India. In this community of brothels and more than 10,000 sex workers, New Zealand Pastor Terry Hilton and his wife, Annie launched a business that seeks to encourage women to leave the sex trade.
In 2001 the Hilton’s gave birth to Freeset with twenty women who were working as prostitutes. After experimenting with different products and testing the market, they decided to make jute bags and t-shirts for the export market.
"We don't hire on the basis of experience or skill," Terry Hilton told ABC’s “Nightline.” "We hire on the basis of a need to be free."
Shruti is one such woman who used to work in a brothel, but now makes bags at Freeset. Having no idea her age, she recalls the rough life as a sex worker.
“I came to work at Freeset so I could provide for myself and my family and my grandchildren,” Shruti said. “I used to pray to God to help me leave the line and He has helped me and shown me the right road. God gave me this job and now I am healthy.”
Nightline reports saving a woman like Shruti from prostitution also means reducing someone else’s profits. Terry maintains that their efforts come with a price – even to the extent of being threatened.
"Someone rang up and said they were the police, I don't know if they were, but threatened to kill us... if we didn't pay," he said. "They were after a lot of money and it was quite a conversation."
Publication date: April 23, 2014