People Helping Victims of Trafficking




A Mighty Girl

For 20 years, Romanian psychologist Iana Matei has rescued hundreds of girls and young women from sex traffickers — a mission she embraced after a chance encounter with three young trafficked girls in 1998. The local police asked if she could provide clothing for several “prostitutes” being held at the station; there, she discovered three terrified girls in their early teens covered in bruises and dressed in skimpy clothing. She was shocked when a child protection official told her, “I cannot put these whores in an orphanage because they will set a bad example for the other children.” Determined to find a way to help the girls and others like them, she opened Romania’s first shelter for sex trafficking victims that week. Since then, she has opened multiple shelters as part of her non-profit Reaching Out Romania and helped approximately 470 young survivors of trafficking start a new life — often rescuing them directly from the traffickers herself. “I don’t know if I am courageous, but I do know that I am angry,” Matei says. “I’m angry at the people who do this, who beat up a young girl, rape her and force her into prostitution so she’ll be traumatized for life. And I’m angry at society for turning a blind eye. It’s so unjust.”

Romania has the highest reported rate of trafficking in the European Union, and girls and women sold into the sex trade make up the majority of victims. The problem exploded in the late 1990s with the wars in the Balkans, which provided both vulnerable populations and a network to “distribute” trafficked girls. “Human traffickers had the networks of arms smugglers and drug traffickers. But selling humans proved to be much more profitable,” Matei reflects. “You can sell a gun only once, but a girl, you can sell her a thousand times. Depending on how long she lasts, of course.” In recent years, Matei says the victims are getting younger. “You’ll find nine-year-old girls working the streets,” she says. “The traffickers put make-up on their faces and dress them up provocatively. But you can still see that they are very, very young.”

When Matei set up her first shelter in Pitesti, she gave up a comfortable life in Australia, where she had lived for nearly a decade, so that she could live in a rented apartment with the first girls she rescued. Charitable donations allowed her to hire social workers and provide other resources to help the traumatized girls recover and resume regular childhood activities — including school and arts and crafts, which Matei explains “keep them from thinking too much.” Integrating the girls back into society is a challenge, Matei says, because “the hardest thing is to change the mentality of the people… In the village, my girls are called names. Once a girl has been in prostitution, the people here don’t want to have anything to do with her. No matter if the girl was forced or if she is underage — she’s just a filthy prostitute, they’ll say. But how on earth can you call an abused 13-year-old girl a prostitute?”

As Reaching Out Romania has grown, however, attitudes have started to shift, and now many of the girls are referred to Matei by police, other NGOs, or the Child Protection Department. Once there, Matei and her colleagues provide counseling and set up an individual plan for each girl, with a focus on developing education and other skills. “These girls often have absolutely no life skills; they don’t know how to do anything,” explains Matei. “Their story is always the same: They come from extremely dysfunctional families where they have suffered all kinds of violence and emotional abuse.”

Even as more girls are referred to her by organizations, Matei — who was named the 2010 European of the Year — is still more than willing to “kidnap” girls right out from under their traffickers’ noses. “It’s dangerous because anything can happen. But, on the other hand, the traffickers don’t expect you to challenge them. They know everyone is afraid of them, so they’re not vigilant. Whenever I kidnap one of their girls, they are in shock,” she says with a smile. But she keeps most details about her direct rescues to herself: “We always plan these rescue operations carefully, but I don’t want to give you too much information because I want to save more girls in the future.”

To learn more about how you can help support Iana Matei’s work with trafficking survivors, visit the Reaching Out Romania website at

For an excellent though challenging novel about one Nepalese girl’s experience being trafficked into prostitution, we highly recommend “Sold” for readers 14 and up at

The powerful young adult novel, “Dime,” also tells the story of a young American teen who is trafficked into the sex trade, for ages 14 and up, at

For a fascinating new book about how girls and women are fighting against child marriage, sex trafficking, and gender discrimination around the world, we highly recommend “Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time,” for ages 13 and up, visit

For many books to inspire children of all ages to make a difference in the world, check out our blog post, “Making An Impact: 25 Mighty Girl Books About Charity and Community Service” at

And, for an inspiring book for teens filled with practical advice on how to make change on issues they care about, we highly recommend “Be A Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters” for ages 12 and up at



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Author: Victoria1111

Truthseeker. Philosopher. Goddess. Starwoman. Freedom and Justice Creator. Writer. Musician. Composer.

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