October 18 is European Anti-trafficking Day. The statistics say that in Europe there are 880,000 people who are victims of forced labor, including sexual exploitation. The situation is getting worse – example is that in 2010 less people were persecuted for this crime than in 2008. States are mostly trying to address the issues of catching and punishing the perpetrators, while NGOs are trying to address the issues that come as results of such activities.
There is one shelter in Romania where my colleague Paul went this week to try to help. Here are some excerpts from his blog:
A few months ago, my friend Heather returned from Romania and excitedly shared about her experiences at a shelter for people rescued from sex trafficking. I was so fascinated and encouraged by all the stories she shared of God at work, that I asked if I could maybe be involved in one way or another.
To make a long story short, permission was granted, plans were made, and today I’m in Romania in the city of Pitești (70 miles northwest of Bucharest). I will be here six days and plan to write an overview at the end of each day. I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I desire to extend hope, love, and grace.
The drive to Pitești was an experience. Lots of swearing and swerving took place by the driver. Ha, but we made it safe and sound. The shelter has a gate and a fairly long, narrow driveway up to the home. Immediately after arrival, girls flowed out, overjoyed to see Heather again. I was greeted warmly as well and welcomed into the home.
At this point, I don’t know how much liberty I have to share names or photos, so I’ll avoid specifics. However, there are well over ten girls (ranging from 15ish to 25ish) and a couple guys (neither of whom were at the shelter the last time Heather was here). Each of them were rescued from sexual slavery in numerous countries and returned to Romania to Iana’s shelter. I don’t know a lot of specific stories at this point.
As I looked at these girls and guys, I could put a face to the statistics for the first time in my life. They had a joyful spirit. Some laughed loudly. Others smiled shyly. It was beautiful. They’re a big family. I don’t know if they’ve blocked out the memories of their past or skillfully mask it. Maybe it haunts them each moment, and they have learned to deal with it.
Many in that room have attempted and/or succeeded in running away from the shelter. Where to? Right back to their pimp. Why? Because he made them feel “loved” or gave them drugs are a couple of the reasons.
Many gathered around me, insisting that I looked like a singer that recently had a popular song on the radio. I laughed with them and joked about being his brother. One girl came and sat between Heather and I and proudly showed us an art project she had completed. A group laughed loudly as they recalled a guy pretending to be electrocuted. One of the two guys, very reserved, couldn’t help but smile as he told us of his plans to return to Italy one day to get a job.
Life is happening at this shelter. There are healthy meals. There is fellowship. There is education. There are friendships. There is routine. None of this would be happening without their rescue.
After a couple hours, we got situated at a small hotel close to the shelter, had some dinner, walked around a little bit, and prayed for God to use us however He sees fit in our short time here.
I personally have nothing to offer these victims of horrendous abuse. I don’t have answers for the disgusting crimes committed against them. But I do know of a God that formed them, knows them, and loves them passionately.
Story: Paul Kitchener
Photo Credit: Paul Kitchener