Update on Reaching Out Romania
with director Iana Matei and son, Ștefan Matei
During our times of communication with Iana we continue to sense her heart and spirit. She has such passion to care for the young girls rescued from human trafficking and to fight against the forces that would continue to enslave these young women. In our last conversation she ended the call by saying, “God is doing the hard work. I just need to learn to rest in Him.” Her faith is so inspiring.
During 2021 sixteen young girls, all victims of human trafficking, were given a home at the Reaching Out Romania shelter. The youngest was 13 years old; the oldest, 20.
Their stories cause us to search our soul as we ask ourselves, “What is my part to play? What is it I need to do? What is God asking of me?”
Please take time to watch the very sobering 44-minute BBC 2 video clip that was released January 23rd after 2 years of research: “Sold-Sex Slaves Next Door.” Iana, Ștefan and the work of Reaching Out Romania are featured at the beginning and at the end of the video.
Struggles that Trafficked Girls Face
Consider 12-year-old *Raluca, trafficked by her uncle, impregnated by him and then sold to one of his clients who is the mayor in a nearby county. Now aged 16, after living in the home with the mayor and his wife, being used by the mayor for the past 3 years, she finds herself tossed out of the house. Just this week, Child Protection placed her and her 3-year-old child at the ROR shelter.
“How does one explain to a 16-year-old girl that the mayor she has been living with for 3 years, who has cared for her and her child, is an abuser?” questions Iana.
Another girl, *Lorena, was required to testify at the penal case against her traffickers. She was so afraid that in the first statement she told the court that it was all her fault and that the trafficker was the good guy trying to straighten her out. After a week of care in the safe home, she gained confidence and was able to change her statement and tell the truth. The trafficker’s arrest is now imminent.
Recently a mother visited her daughter, *Gabi, at the shelter. Against known procedure, she smuggled alcohol into the home in a tea bottle that she shared among the girls, lied to the social worker by making a second, hidden cell phone available to the girls and behaved erratically in the washroom and hallways. This same mother has opened a court case to request that her daughter return to live with her.
As difficult as these challenges are for the young girls to overcome, they do have a place of acceptance at the ROR shelter.
*Flori, 20-years-old and a graduate of ROR, had a disruption to her mental health treatment and was in need of assistance. She specifically requested help from Reaching Out saying, “It is the only organization that I trust.” *Flori returned to the shelter for a month which was enough time to check her into the hospital, update her treatment and help her get back on track.
Daily Living Routines
Throughout this last year, all the girls were able to attend school full-time, and to receive supplemental classes. An organization with a specialty in education offered their services free of charge to tutor the girls on-line. They received much needed help in their most important subjects such as Romanian language, math, chemistry, physics, English, and personal development.
Actual attendance at a church remains limited because of the pandemic, but a group of Christians faithfully visited and taught the Alpha Course each Saturday for three months. The social workers commented that the course was useful and fun even for themselves.
E-commerce for Lavender Products
February 1st, the essential lavender oil produced at the farm became available on an E-commerce platform. The page was created by an IT company who discovered ROR on the internet and offered their professional services. The girls are taking workshops and are learning to make candles with the essential oils, floral arrangements with lavender, sachets, and painted coffee cups.
Progress Made - Dangerous Legislation Blocked
Two years ago, because of pressure from the European Union, Romania had to allow civic society to participate in legislative decision making. As a result, Reaching Out Romania is one of three chosen social organizations from among a federation of 25 non-Governmental groups who are now part of the council that approve or oppose new legislation. Because of the point of view presented by these NGO’s, 3 dangerous pieces of legislation that favoured the traffickers were blocked.
The last was to supposedly “protect children from sexual abuse” by proposing age 14 as the legal age of consent. To better understand this dangerous proposal, it is important to know that in the Romanian legislation there is no definition for paedophilia and no punishment for paedophiles, so minors are left unprotected.
ROR formulated the objections to this governmental proposal that the age of 14 was too young and the legislation was not passed. They continue to work to enact more appropriate legislation to protect minors.
Standards established for Organizations
ROR participated in multiple working groups in parliament to make sure that the victim’s voice was heard. ROR formulated the criteria and rules of engagement for any organization working with victims of human trafficking and that they must now be licensed and therefore regulated by the standards.
Court Cases Resolved in favour of Victims
Last year 3 court cases were finalized where traffickers received sentences between 3.5 years to 4 years. At present there is still one case pending in Bucharest that is of concern as it places the shelter at high risk. The trafficker is arrested but his family is looking for the victim and making threats.
ReAct project - Reform and action for the rights of children
In December, Iana Matei was one of the experts who developed and taught the 1st training workshop for 45 journalists. They gained valuable knowledge on investigating child trafficking cases and the real situation of minors as victims in the justice system. The journalists will prepare and publish 50 press articles on the treatment of minor victims in judicial procedures or the evolving work of the institutions against child trafficking.
*Names of the girls have been changed