Notes from Romania, part 3

Just a quick recap: 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 learned about IJM's European Anti-Trafficking Program (EATP); a strategy that will change history and help end human trafficking in Europe. 

Today, I am going to start with some highlights of IJM Romania's work in the last few years. We can share in the joy of their success, knowing this is what we've contributed to:

  • 200+ Criminal Justice System actors trained (police, prosecutors, and judges)
  • 80 specialists trained (social workers & psychologists)
  • 80 survivors receiving support and legal assistance
  • 44 convictions for human trafficking offences
  • Implementation of multiple J/TIP Grants
  • Collaborative Casework with both Romania & European stakeholders
  • Accommodation awarded by the UK court for 2 sex trafficking and labor trafficking cases

As you read through that list of amazing accomplishments you might be wondering what about the criminal justice systems? How does it all play out?

That's one of my favorite parts about IJM so let's dive in - back to the conference room with my notebook and pen going as fast as my brain and hands could move.

We heard from someone new, a former Romanian police officer turned IJM employee, he had a kindness in his eyes I didn't expect. He has seen the worst parts of humanity, yet showed no signs of being jaded. He spoke very factually, as one would expect for someone in his line of work. First the case, victim profile, criminal profile, the crime itself, rescue, and finally justice.

In 2022, 500 trafficking victims were identified in Romania & the Romanian anti-trafficking system was notified. 50% of the victims were minors. It's important to understand that human trafficking is a gender based crime. Women are mostly sexually exploited through prostitution and pornography, many ages 13-17. While men are used for forced labor in agriculture and construction, and boys are often forced to beg on the streets or sexually exploited.

We've already learned how traffickers prey on those who have suffered trauma. Typically the profile is someone who has a low level of education, difficult family background, and economic challenges. The number of victims who are minors is increasing.

What about the criminals? I've been asked this question many times in the last few months. What makes someone willing to commit such a heinous crime? While, I still don't know all of the psychology for the criminal, this is what I do know: perpetrators are financially motivated. Human trafficking is the second most profitable crime, after drug trafficking.

Criminal organizations are mostly families or ethnic groups. Each stage of trafficking can be managed by any family member, so if one gets arrested another can quickly step in to fill the void. This is why an entire criminal organization has to be taken down all at once. 

In some cases a criminal organization this could be 3-5 people, while other times in can be 3 generations deep. Yes, that includes moms and grandmas being part of the organized crime. Women are traffickers too, not just men.

Often criminal organizations work together to form a network. For example, a German brothel may source their girls from a Romanian crime family.

Let's take a moment to talk through recruitment methods because traffickers in Romania are using the same methods as traffickers in the US. If you've read my blogs on trafficking this may sound familiar:

The most common way traffickers recruit their victims in through the “lover boy" method. Remember the victim profile above. Along comes Mr. Wonderful who promises a girl a job, travel and even marriage to save her from whatever she is trying to escape. 

At some point in their relationship, the girl makes a poor decision (remember the trauma piece) and is involved in criminal behavior. The trafficker shows his true colors and blackmails the girl. She is forced into prostitution, then required to train other girls and brutally beaten if her trainees do not perform well enough.

This information wasn't new to me. I've been learning about recruitment methods and how victims get trapped in this cycle of abuse for years. You know what stopped me in my tracks? Germany. Over and over we heard Germany.

The example of the brothel sourcing Romanian women - Germany. Why? In 2002 Germany passed a law legalizing prostitution. Now 1.2 MILLION sex services are bought in Germany EVERY. SINGLE, DAY. 

Prostitution is legal in Germany, but human trafficking is not.

What's the difference? Human trafficking requires force, fraud or coercion (minors are the exception). If a prostitute is not being paid it's not longer legal. German police do regular checks at brothels, but they need to ask better questions.

Traffickers are very good at making victims believe they will never be able to prove they were trafficked. Police need to be trained to ask questions like, “Do you have kids? Where are they? Who is caring for them?" These types of questions will often lead to more telling information.

Who is going to train the police? You guessed it: IJM. Why in Germany? Because Romanian women are often trafficked there. Prostitution is legal in Germany but it's not the German women who are being prostituted and often it is forced.

A big part of the work IJM Romania does is training police, prosecutors and judges.

Out of those trainings, relationships and trust are built. Then when the police take down a brothel and identify Romanian victims, they will call IJM. This is already happening in some places.

Once victims are identified, a case has to be filed against the perpetrator. This is grueling work. There are far too many cases and not enough prosecutors. One case we learned about had 40 victims. The case went to court 2-3 years after the initial arrest and the police lost contact with the victims. They reached out to IJM for help. IJM was able to locate one victim who was willing to testify.

 As IJM continues to build these relationships with the local justice system they will be involved earlier in human trafficking cases. IJM's social worker and partners will be able to maintain care and relationship with victims who then tell where other victims are.

Human trafficking is a very complex issue. 

I've said it many times, but it's worth repeating - human trafficking is a very complex issue. However, there is so much hope. IJM is working to create a deterrent effect. When traffickers realize they could spend many years in prison and have all of their money taken away they will lose incentive. Remember, traffickers are motivated by money. When it's no longer profitable they will stop.

I didn't muster very many brilliant questions throughout this conversation. When I set my pen down each time, not only did my hand hurt but my brain was tired too. I was continuously amazed by the brilliance of the IJM staff. Not only were they wildly passionate about ending human trafficking, but they were top notch experts.

It was incredibly humbling to come to this table. I can't tell you how many times I asked myself how I got invited on this trip. I echoed the thoughts of another US based IJM staff member when he suggested something didn't fit and it was him. 

Yet, here I was - welcomed to the table. Welcomed to the conversation and an invitation to live with them on the verge of tears.

That's where I find myself right now - on the verge of tears. I've never felt so weepy as I have in the last few weeks. When I go back to my notes, consider the work that has been done, the work that remains remains, the women who need rescue and the children who need protection, I weep.

The plan to end human trafficking in Europe is there, the experts are there, and still they need us to play our part. My part matters? Is it enough? - questions I've asked myself many times.

It matters. We all do our part. Our part as the Sela community? It's fundraising to support the work that the IJM team is trained and ready to do. This Holiday season all of our profit will go to this work. I can't do it alone. I need you to help spread the word, give Sela for Christmas gifts, and please pray for God to multiply everything we put our hands to do. I can't thank you enough for being in this with me.

Together we can change the world. One piece of jewelry at a time.

Part 2 of this blog series here.

Part 1 of this blog series here.