There were over 2,000 registered victims human trafficking victims last year alone in Moldova. The women are sent abroad to be prostitutes, men are forced into slave-like wage labor and children have to become beggars.
Human trafficking is plaguing Moldova
He's heard the remarks that you never know what you're getting into when you go abroad, nods Viorel Gorceag as he loses the calm that he normally emanates. "What do you think?" he asks.
"Do you think any of those that went abroad ever dreamt they'd be assaulted 70 times a day, be sold for a dollar per minute, beaten or forced to take drugs or give birth to a child only so that it could be sold later?"
"I could tell you stories," says Viorel Gorceag. "You would ask how something like that is possible." The young psychologist with large hands and dark eyes runs Moldova's only rehabilitation center for victims of human trafficking. He also took care of Maria. She was brought from Chisinau to Moscow to work on the market as a saleswoman.
But when she arrived in the capital, she was suddenly forced into street prostitution.
Beaten into prostitution
Victims end up in desitute conditions following a fake job offer
Rescued after three months by pure chance, she can now put her trust in the psychologist from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Her pimps "beat her and locked her in a basement for three days without any food or water." When they let her out, she gave in and worked on the streets. "If I didn't want to go with a john, I would be beaten," the young woman explains.
Maria, whose name has been changed, is one of the more than 2,000 women that Gorceag and the IOM team were able to help between 2001 and 2006. The organization' rehabilitation center has been housed in a new building of a Chisinau clinic for a year and half now. There is a kitchen and dining room on the main floor and the women's and children's room are on the floor above. There are also offices and doctors' rooms, as well as a playroom and a fitness room.
Corrupt government officials involved?
In the beginning, the rehabilitation center was financed solely by the IOM. Since 2007, however, it has also been receiving support from the Moldovan government, which is also operating a reintegration program and diverse prevention measures. Despite these measures, there are accusations, for example, from the American Ministry of Foreign Affairs that corrupt government officials are also entangled in the human trafficking.
Ana Ravenco is the director of "Lad Strada," a help organization that has been operating an emergency hotline for victims of human trafficking since 2001. The organization also offers information that is intended to prevent human trafficking. According to Ravenco, in Moldova the lack of money paved the way for a booming modern slave trade.
Slave traders among acquaintances
"Many women decide to leave the country because of poverty, the lack of perspectives and due to other economic factors like the wide-spread domestic violence," explains Ravenco. "Women receive false job offers, which sadly come most of the time from people within their circle of friends or relatives – from people they trust."
Instead of doing housework for family acquaintances in Italy as promised, the girls – who are mostly between the ages of 19 and 29 – end up in a nightclub in Turkey where they are forced to work in the sex trade. Since they can neither speak the language nor do they know a single person – plus most of the time their passport was taken from them – they are completely helpless.
Gaining perspective against the stigmatization
In order to offer long-term perspective to the victims of human trafficking in search of help and to protect them from a social stigmatization upon their return to Moldova, the rehabilitation center in Chisinau educates the women in the field of business. This starts by helping them with small loans. And it is successful. Only about five percent of the victims make their way back to their torturers, says project leader Victor Lutenco.
"Long-term reintegration programs are indispensable for the rehabilitation of human trafficking victims," he emphasizes. "These programs are conducted where the victims live, because otherwise this group of people would be exposed to a high risk of once again finding themselves in the hands of human traffickers."
Women aren't the only victims of human trafficking
Men and children also victims
The IMO and non-government organizations like "La Strada" have to be thanked for the fact that there are any numbers on human trafficking victims at all. As of now, there is no central database for human trafficking in the Republic of Moldova. Experts estimate that there have been several thousand Moldovan victims of human trafficking since the country gained independence from the former Soviet Republic. Women are just a part of the group affected.
Children are employed as beggars, human organs are sold and Moldovan men are forced into modern-day slavery on foreign construction sites, in warehouses and field work. Somewhere in between Western Europe and the Middle East. The men, says Viorel Gorceag, have the most problems admitting their exploitation. The ones who go back are often spoken about as having had no luck. "But we're not talking about luck here – we're talking about human trafficking."