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Loredana Urzică-Mirea - Kaleidoscopic justice

Author: Loredana Urzică-Mirea

Two years ago a girl came to us at the Centre. We'll call her Ana, and although that's not her real name, her story is as real as it gets. It is the story of thousands of young Romanian girls who end up in the hands of human traffickers.

Ana comes from a county in the south of the country. Her father died when she was a child and she spent her childhood with her mother and stepfather, who was often violent. She was mostly alone, with other relatives living far away. She went to high school but had no close group of friends.

When she was 17, Ana met a young man a few years older on the internet, with whom she fell in love with and shared her thoughts, dreams and plans for the future for several months with him. She tells him everything she has never been able to tell anyone else, and he tells her he will always be there for her. He introduces her to his family.

After her 18th birthday, her boyfriend tells her that he would like to go visit his relatives in Spain and would like to take her along. To show her what it's like abroad, maybe they can find jobs there too. She wants them to save money, get a place together - a house or maybe even get married, have their own family.

Ana gets excited, accepts his offer and looks forward to the trip, although her mother is not in favor of it at all. She never liked the boy. Her boyfriend makes all the plans and buys the plane tickets. They actually land in France and go to an apartment where other people were living. That's the moment Ana realizes that nothing she had believed was real, that the last few months of her life had been a lie. She didn't know the language of the country she was in, nor did she know how she could ask for help. She was trafficked for four years to six countries in Western Europe. Her mother searched desperately for her.

During this time, Ana met police officers on the street and at the border, doctors, social workers and clients. None of them recognized her as a victim.

My name is Loredana Urzică-Mirea and I work in prevention and detection of human trafficking at eLiberare, a specialised organisation that has been working in this field for 11 years.

I had heard about human trafficking, but I saw it as something very far away from me. The film “Taken”, when a girl is kidnapped and her father searches the world for her, was my only reference. 

When my daughter was only a few months old, I was still on maternity leave and was not necessarily thinking about going back to work. But then something happened. The case of Alexandra in Caracal. The news reported on the girl’s story obsessively day and night and I followed it just as obsessively. An avalanche of emotions wouldn't let me sleep and I was running scenarios in my head. A commuter girl ended up in the hands of a drug dealer.

That was the moment that brought me here today.

I've always known about myself that I feel emotions strongly, from joy, to sadness, to anger, to excitement, I experience them all intensely. Sadness tore me apart for years after I lost my father in an accident. And when I gave birth and held my baby for the first time, I didn't think it was possible for a human being to be flooded with so much joy. Just as I learned true fear when I first went to the hospital with my baby.

But nothing I experienced compares to the way I feel and internalize injustice.

Human trafficking is the slavery of the modern age where some people profit from the control and exploitation of others.

Today, around 50 million people are trapped in a form of modern slavery.

Globally only 1% of victims are identified and only 1 in 100,000 traffickers are convicted. It is the second most profitable crime in the world after drug trafficking.

Our country is among the main source countries of victims in the European Union. Of the millions of people who have sought the dream of a better life in Western Europe, tens of thousands have been vulnerable to human traffickers.

Women and girls are sexually exploited by trafficking networks, most men are exploited by working in factories or on farms, people with disabilities are forced to beg or commit crimes, and children....

...children are trafficked in all forms, in recent years mostly online. In fact half of the victims identified in Romania are children.

Like Ana, most victims are recruited by acquaintances, friends, boyfriends, cousins or neighbors.

Human trafficking is not a remote phenomenon. Once we begin to see how it is intertwined with our daily lives, we realize that those who become victims are actually those we live with in our families and communities.

Traffickers take advantage of the vulnerability of those they target, and the chains are invisible and take the form of psychological manipulation.

Ana's trafficker decided at one point to move her to Germany. Prostitution is legalized there and not many people question that she would be there against her will. She feels she can't live any longer, that if she stays there her life will soon be over. She gets up the courage to ask for help.

A whole plan is put in place to bring her back to Romania, where our team provides her with the necessary support and assistance to start the healing process - medical care, psychotherapy, counselling and emotional support, material support. Before all this, the first thing she asked for was hair dye. Most victims ask for that, a completely different color.

Ana was reunited with her mother, and a few months later she decided she wanted to seek justice in court. In Romania, a lawsuit in which a victim of human trafficking is the injured party can take years. Often, in the end, the victim is either no longer in the country, has completely rebuilt her life and doesn't want to hear about the trial, or is caught up in the same circles of exploitation. Some traffickers receive suspended sentences.

Ana continues to fight for justice today. After all these years, her case is still stuck in the justice system. She dreams of finishing her studies and becoming a social worker, she wants to help others.

The reality is that many victims will probably never find justice in the justice system, traffickers may or may not be convicted, and even if they are convicted it does not bring any form of justice for the victim. The chances of them receiving any kind of compensation or support from the state are minimal.

Victims seek to be seen, they want to be believed and given the help they need. To be seen and believed by police officers, prosecutors, judges, social workers, or even the client in whom they put their trust, to be seen and believed, even if the facts are not chronological or do not make sense, because the memories are twisted. To be seen and believed by family, friends, colleagues and the community. Be treated with dignity. Justice is when we all pay attention around us and stop allowing the normalization of abuse and exploitation.

Not on our watch!

A few years into my anti-trafficking work, my therapist at the time asked me why I chose this? And I told her, with conviction, that I wanted my little girl to live in a better world.

I was born 1 hour away from Suceava, in Târgu Neamț and I went to secondary school in the village of Vânători-Neamț. Since 9th grade, when I started high school, I had to commute and

for 4 years, day after day, I had to find something to travel the 5 kilometres, either a bus, someone I knew or an opportunity.

Eleven years out of high school, a girl commuting to school ended up in the hands of a drug dealer.

I realized it could have been me.

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