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.
Last Wednesday, on the EU day against trafficking in human beings, a high-level conference was held in Brussels on how to end this modern-day slavery. Globally there are nearly 21 million victims of forced labor. 80 percent of victims in the EU are women. At a speech at the conference, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström underlined the importance of cooperation across borders: “Trafficking in human beings is a severe violation of the most basic human right – individual freedom – and a horrific crime. It cannot be tolerated in any form, be it in Europe or anywhere else in the world. It implies an obligation, moral as well as legal, to act.”
There is one shelter in Romania where my colleague Paul went last week to try to help. Here are some excerpts from his blog (part 2):
A young man (still not sure if they really want us writing their names), currently at the shelter, had his drink spiked with a drug that knocked him out. When he woke up, he was beaten and raped and sold to various men. At some point during his slavery, a cardiologist told him that he had something very wrong with his heart and that he would die if it wasn’t treated. This wasn’t true, but the cardiologist said he would only give him the medical attention he needed if he provided sexual favors for him and all his friends.
After being rescued and taken in by Iana, one of the key groups that sponsored the shelter dropped their support since they only wanted to focus on trafficked girls.
I also heard about how traffickers were making 60,000 Euros/month on about thirty Romanian children in Italy. They got them to beg, even maimed some to gain more sympathy, and kept all of the money. If I understood correctly, those children were rescued and are in the process of being returned to Romania.
I had an awesome talk with one of the two guys at the shelter. He had been trafficked in Italy and was there so long that he basically speaks Italian as well as his native language, Romanian. Somehow we managed to have a great conversation, him speaking Italian and me speaking Portuguese. I just prayed God would give me words he understood.
I learned that he loves music (everything from AC/DC to Lil Wayne to Jimmy Eat World). He told me that he doesn’t believe in God at all but then added that he at least doesn’t have much faith in Him. As I looked at him and saw the amount of scars on his hands and face and couldn’t begin to fathom the things he’s been through, I imagined that he might feel abandoned by God. Would I think any differently if I were in his place?
Things aren’t immediately easy after arriving in the shelter and the circumstances differ for each one. One girl I met today had tried to kill her social worker. After stabbing her a number of times with a knife she had found in the kitchen, another one of the girls was able to stop her, getting stabbed in the process as well. Today, she is a different person. Another one of the girls used to severely cut herself. Today, she proudly showed Heather that all the bandages were gone and no longer necessary. Another girl had become a Christian and even shared at a conference for women about the grace of God in her life. Weeks later, she ran away and was found at the border with a forged ID, back with her pimp. She’s fifteen years old.
All I hope to do is share things from my perspective, someone who has had just minimal knowledge of trafficking before this week. For those of you who would love to have this opportunity, let’s pray together about how we can play a role in helping the trafficked and bringing the traffickers to justice. Those working effortlessly to rescue these kids and create a better life for them are true heroes.
Amidst all the commotion, I noticed “C” (the one rescued from trafficking in Italy and doesn’t believe in God) remaining disconnected from the rest of the group. He’s shy and introverted, and I’ve hoped to be very intentional about spending time with him. He went outside to smoke a cigarette alone, so I grabbed my football and went outside to join him. “B” followed me outside, wanting to join in. “C” went back inside. I was bummed on missing out on a one-on-one opportunity with him, but began talking to “B”. She was the one who boldly spoke about God’s grace in her life at a conference and then soon after ran away and was caught at the Hungary/Romania border with her pimp.
I asked her directly about the situation since my friend had made me aware that you can speak to them openly about most things. She told me of her high times with God, but now how she feels low and that God has left her and doesn’t speak to her anymore. She used to want to be a missionary to the pimps that were in prison. Now she doesn’t anymore. The Christian life is too difficult. She knows God loves her, but she’s not interested in pursuing Him right now. I didn’t know exactly what to say, but I know people from every background deals with this. I encouraged her to not focus on her feelings and to just seek Jesus. I also encouraged her to be open and honest with God, since He knew right where she was at and would never abandon her. We talked for twenty minutes or so. I know Heather has been encouraging her as well, so you can pray “B” retains the passion she once had. I think she may believe she has lost her salvation.
After our conversation was interrupted by a bunch of people coming outside, I went to a small room and prayed that God would give me a chance to hang out with “C” one-on-one, which seemed impossible with fifteen people or so in tight quarters. When I came out, all the girls were intently focused on some art project Heather had just started with them. “C” sat at one end of the couch working on a bracelet (he’s made three really nice ones for me already!). I sat next to him. For the next hour or two, we played games and drew pictures together, and he taught me a bunch of Italian. Heather said every time she looked over, his eyes were lit up and he had a huge smile on his face. Praise God!
You know those days you’ll remember for a very long time, if not forever? Today was one of those days. Everything clicked. Everything flowed. There were big smiles and genuine tears. We gave gifts and received them in return in abundance.
Story and photos: Paul Kitchener