I'm sitting in a coffee shop today typing away, excited to share more about our trip to Romania and how the Sela Community has made an impact across the world. We may never meet them or look into their eyes, but the women we've reached are very real and our stories are now entwined.
Just a quick recap: last week we talked about the 2.2+ million people enslaved throughout Europe and how past trauma has made Romania a breeding ground of people vulnerable to trafficking. We ended with hope. Human Trafficking is complex, but there is a strategy that is working to stop it. We live on the verge of tears, but we have hope.
Today, I'll walk you through the next big topic we discussed in Romania - IJM's European Anti-Trafficking Program. What is this strategy that can change history? How does it actually work with real people? Let me explain…
We found ourselves gathered around that same conference table with coffee in hand and braced our minds and hearts in prayer to continue learning. As I sat there writing and writing I was blown away by the people who actually came up with amazing questions for the IJM staff. I was still trying to process the words I was hearing:
- 5 million out of 20 million Romanians live in Western Europe.
- Traffickers make more money in Western Europe than Romania, which is why they move the victims.
- Traffickers play a long game: they will exploit a girl in Romania until she's 18 and can legally travel. Then they take her to Western Europe to make way more money.
“Ok. That's overwhelming,” I thought. “So where's this hope and plan you have and can we please get it moving?!” Yes.
The European Anti-Trafficking Program (EATP) is IJM's plan to end human trafficking in Europe. It's broken down into a vision and then three pillars:
Vision: strengthened and coordinated justice systems to protect vulnerable populations from trafficking both domestically and across Europe.
- Pillar 1: European cross border collaboration
- Pillar 2: Strong criminal justice system response
- Pillar 3: Empowered survivors
What does that mean in real life?
Remember that victim I told you we prayed for in the last email? The one who had just come to IJM two days before our arrival? We got to understand exactly how the EATP worked to save her life.
This woman, we will call her Ana, was found by police in the UK. This is where Pillar 1 comes in: IJM has relationships with the UK police force so when they identified Ana as a Romanian trafficking victim they called IJM and asked for help. The process to get Ana back to Romania is more complicated than a quick phone call between the police and IJM, but for time's sake we will leave it at that.
If you are anything like me you are now wondering how in the world do police in the UK know IJM Romania exists? IJM has spent the last 4 years building a network of vetted partner organizations in Europe, as well as providing high level expertise and training to police, prosecutors, and judges. This is creating a referral mechanism for all of Eastern Europe, not just Romania.
Back to Ana. When she got back to Romania the IJM social worker stepped in. This piece was important to me and should be to you as well. The social work or aftercare is the part Sela has raised a lot of funds to help provide.
We all probably think the most about rescue. We like to envision a hero kicking down doors and carrying out women and children from a brothel, gun slung over his shoulder, a massive soldier or war hero. That's what the movies have sold us, but its a far cry from reality.
Rescue often looks like a trained professional identifying a trafficking victim, building a relationship with her, and spending months helping her realize she can get out. That's the very beginning and maybe even the easier part of rescue.
Victims need continual care. If there's no support after initial rescue there will be more trauma and often revictimization.
This is what happened to Ana. It turns out Ana had been victimized three times. She was trafficked from Romania to Cypress, then Germany, and finally the UK. Between each location she escaped home to Romania, but had no care or services and was revictimized.
I saw the picture of IJM's social worker walking hand in hand with Ana on the street. She needed clothes and to feel safe. Aftercare isn't a job. It's a mission and a heart. It's a passion that won't stop. It's walking down the street with a woman who has been so traumatized she needs someone to hold her hand. And so we continue on the verge of tears.
This picture and these moments were some of the most impactful of our time in Romania. The work of rescue and healing is messy. IJM staff is in the trenches day in and day out. They are working with partners to provide medical, social and emotional care, in addition to making sure immediate physical needs are met.
The next step in the EATP is pillar 2: strong criminal justice system response. For Ana this means that her case is taken to court and her perpetrators prosecuted in both the UK and Romania. This piece has to be handled with great care, which we will talk about more next time, but the cases are opened and will be moving forward.
Pillar 3 is the future we hope for Ana: empowered survivor. This takes time, years and probably several. I hope to one day hear how Ana is thriving in her new life as a free woman.
The European Anti-Trafficking Program is an 8 year strategy, really a theory of change.
The goal is to open additional offices in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland, with police liaisons in additional countries. Eventually offices will also be opened in more popular destination countries for traffickers.
The picture of Ana hand in hand with the social worker was something I saw during lunch. We had learned so much in the morning and went to lunch with the staff. I was excited to sit with Shawn, director of IJM Romania, and ask all of my questions.
The information and even Ana's story was so much Shawn's everyday life. Yet, he had this humility and sacredness to his work. He hasn't been hardened by it. A complete expert, high level, professional man, yet tender to the pain and suffering of others.
One other IJM staff member from the America side of things summed it up better than I could when he said, “I looked around at the amazing IJM Romania team, all of my ”colleagues", and thought something doesn't match. That something is me."
He went on to say, “Everyone is bringing their 5 loaves and two fish and asking God to do miracles.” That's what we are doing too, you and me. We bring what we have to the table, what God has put in our hands to do and we ask for miracles. It never seems like enough and maybe that's what makes it even more beautiful.
Until next time, we live on the verge of tears and ask for miracles. Thanks for being here, friend.