Friday, November 5, 2010

Romania: Rescuing Young Women From Traffickers' Hands

Davin Ellicson for The New York Times
Iana Matei in her office at the shelter she founded for sex trafficked women.

CONSTANTA, ROMANIA -- The 15-year-old had been “trained” in prostitution in a nightclub in the southern Romanian city of Calarasi. Now, the sex traffickers were getting ready to sell her off to a Turkish brothel for $2,800.

Iana Matei, Romania’s leading advocate for the victims of trafficking, had made contact with the girl and offered to wait outside the nightclub in her car, ready to take the teenager away if she could get out on the street for a cigarette break. But the girl had tried to escape before, and had been beaten severely. Ms. Matei was not sure she would have the courage to try again.

Then she appeared, bolting for the car and scrambling into the back seat. The hitch came a few minutes later.

As Ms. Matei gunned the engine and raced down unfamiliar streets, worried that the traffickers would follow, she got totally lost.

“I kept shouting at her to tell me where to go,” Ms. Matei said. “And she was not being very helpful, and I was not being very nice to her. And finally, I stopped the car and looked back and the face I saw...

“I realized it was me who was being dumb. She was so scared, there was no way she could help me.”

For more than 10 years, Ms. Matei, a psychologist by training, has been pulling young women out of the hands of traffickers, sometimes by staging “kidnappings,” sometimes just by offering them a place to stay, heal and rebuild their lives...


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