‘Reaching Out’ Romania works to bring better lives to trafficked girls
Eva Fernández Ortiz – WNN Features
(WNN) Constanta, ROMANIA: After studying psychology and living in Australia for some years, human rights activist and street-child advocate Iana Matei returned to her native country – Romania. When she returned in 1998 her life changed in a big way. As a psychologist and ‘expert’ in street children, Matai was contacted by local police when they told her that they needed her help.
Three teenage girls who were picked up for prostitution needed to be taken to see a doctor. Matei helped the girls, but was well aware that there was no where they could go after their visit to the doctor.
At the time, there was no shelter in Romania that would take in young prostitutes or help them.
Aware of the dangers the girls would face if they stayed out on the streets, Matei made a decision that would end up helping numerous teenage girls find a new future and a new life. It was then that Matei decided to start Reaching Out – a shelter that continues today to work to build back the lives of children who are victims of sex trafficking, exploitation and sexual slavery.
Sexual slavery is not something any young girl wants, outlines Matei. It’s often deep desperation that causes a girl who is vulnerable to be manipulated by a sex-trafficker. The selling of a girl to a human trafficker does not happen just once; it is often part of an ongoing process of being sold over and over again to different ‘owners’.
“The overwhelming majority of victims of trafficking are exploited youth who are often runaways or castaways from dysfunctional homes where they have already suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Romania is a country whose crippled economy and weak social
service structure provides virtually no social safety nets to assist them,” said Matei in a formal statement for a United Nations in-depth study on violence against women in 2005.
“With a scarcity of jobs in a male dominated society, young girls are particularly vulnerable to carefully crafted offers promising unique opportunities that will bring good jobs and good money outside the country. Impoverished, abused, and without education or family guidance that would foster intelligent decision-making, these young women become easy prey to savvy traffickers who befriend them and tempt them with offers they can hardly refuse,” Matei continued.
Human rights journalist Eva Fernández Ortiz, for WNN – Women News Network, recently had a chance to interview Iana Matei about her life and her work to save children trapped by human trafficking. Their engaging and informative discussion follows:
Eva Fernández for WNN: What were your thoughts when you came across girl-trafficking for the first time in 1998?
Iana Matei: I was obviously shocked, because when you say prostitutes my mental image was an older woman, maybe 40 something year old looking woman… nothing like what I saw – they were aged 14, 15 and 15 and a half. I asked the girls about how they ended up in the situation and they told me that have been sold and bought. This is when I realized we have slavery in the country, in the twenty-first century, and I became very angry.
The girls had syphilis and were in the hospital for two weeks, which gave me the time to start the program.
WNN: What was the children prostitution situation at that time and how has it evolved since you started in 1999?
Matei: At the time I started the program only about a quarter were minor and three quarters were over 18 year old. Often the under 18 were exploited in Rumania before being sent across the borders. However, right now we have three quarters under 18 and only one quarter over. A decade ago there were less underage girls but more violence.
WNN: When did this change happen?
Matei: In 2003/2004 it started to change… and in 2007 the figures clearly showed predominance of minors. Everything has changed too, the modus operandi of the traffickers, the countries of destination, etc. They have changed while we (who fight the traffickers) are still in the same situation, the same legislation, the same approach… and I think this is another problem.
For example, now we have boys who are exploited in the sex industry, they sell boys. They put drugs in their drinks; they rape them and they sell them. And if you ask our legislators, we don’t have this problem yet. We don’t talk about it even if these children exist. It is not official; it is like “it might be”.
WNN: How do the girls arrive to your shelter? What conditions are they in when the arrive?
Matei: They arrive through the police who contact me…usually have medical problems…more than only sexually transmitted diseases. I’m talking about kidney problems, facial problems due to the beating….
Psychologically they are a mess. They don’t know who they are. They can’t find their identity. They are ashamed… that’s the most relevant characteristic. They don’t understand that it is not their fault. They think it is their fault for being stupid and believing; it is always their fault. They feel guilty.
To see more of this important interview with video and special reports LINK TO PAGE 2 below > > >
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