Angela*, 24 years old, lived in a small home shared by her parents, her 2 children, her sister-in-law and sister’s child in Romania. She had been married young, experiencing physical and verbal abuse from her husband and in-laws which made her a vulnerable target to traffickers.
In the spring of 2020, Angela met Robert* online through her cousin. Desperate to escape the abusive environment in which she lived, she decided to run away from home with him.
He took a common approach of developing a romantic relationship with her, with the ultimate goal being to traffic her for commercial sexual exploitation in the UK. Angela says that the two weeks spent together with Robert were the most beautiful weeks of her life; she had never received so much love from a man. Her only other experience was with her husband, chosen for her by her parents, and the 6 years spent together had been full of violence. During their two weeks together, Robert spoke on the phone with Angela's parents and assured them that he had good intentions, loved her and planned to marry her.
Angela admits that she left the country of her own free will, following the promises made by Robert after he gained her trust. She says Robert promised her that they would both work in London and live with his sister for a while. But when they got to the UK, Angela was taken to a house where she would be forced to engage in commercial sexual exploitation.
Scared and betrayed, she decided to run away as soon as possible. Fortunately, the room she was in had access to a balcony, and she managed to jump into the yard. From there, she climbed the fence and reached the main street, where she asked for help from passers-by, asking them to call the police. One of them called the police, and Angela was taken into custody.
Due to her descriptions of the area where the house was located, the officers managed to find and arrest the suspect.
The case was referred to International Justice Mission Romania by the Metropolitan Police in September 2020, and Angela has been receiving psycho-social support ever since.
Churches Step in to Provide Support During Pandemic
The COVID-19 crisis has increased the barriers for minority communities to access the resources available to trafficking victims, and Angela’s city was far from IJM’s office location. Still, IJM was able to arrange remote therapy sessions that helped Angela process the traumatic events she experienced and also improved her relationship with her family.
Even after repatriation, Angela and her family lived in poverty with no reliable sources of income – a result both of few opportunities and the existence of discrimination against minority communities. They needed crisis intervention and material support in order to get through the pandemic lock downs.
Despite the COVID-19 crisis and the lack of resources, Angela and her family found help from the church community. A Christian NGO within the Orthodox Church was able to help Angela's family, ensuring that they have access to basic food, raw materials for heating the house and spiritual counseling. The involvement and dedication of the priest from the local NGO made a significant impact on Angela's recovery process and the family's well-being, protecting her from the vulnerability of being victimized again.