The reports about Andrew Brunson’s release are just another example of how little the media know about evangelical churches.
Volunteers working with the Christian association Valoare Plus set up support groups in secondary schools to mentor teenagers in risk of being trafficked for pornography and prostitution.
Eastern Romania is the one of the places in Europe where more girls and boys are recruited for prostitution and pornography.
Poverty, family instability and lack of information become the environment in which criminal organisations fish victims that will be trafficked to be exploited in Western European countries.
But this reality will change when young people are equipped to make better decisions, believes Marian Paduret, the president of the Association Valoare Plus, a Christian organisation working with young people.
“There are many contexts that contribute to the risk of girls to be trafficked for prostitution and pornography, but in our region, poverty and economical challenges are the number one reason why many girls are vulnerable to human trafficking”, Paduret told Evangelical Focus.
The main priority for many is to have financial income. “The desire to have a job and being able to care for yourself or even to take care of one’s family makes a lot of girls easy prey for traffickers that come and advertise good paid jobs in Western Europe”.
After falling into the trap, the girls “start to be exploited” as they cross the Romanian border.
“MANY YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE BEEN LEFT BEHIND”
Another factor that does not help is when “young people have been left behind”. Parents may have emigrated to another European country to “make a good income to send back home for a decent living”. Relatives or grandmothers raise these children, but these minors frequently fall into “frustration and vulnerability”, Paduret explains.
“Many girls that end up being trafficked come from good families” that suddenly suffered this kind of separation due to financial needs.
Blackmail is one of the strategies used to enslave these young people. “Pornographic video chats are very usual here”. Some young people start using them and see it as an easy and safe way to earn some extra money.
“The problem is that pictures and videos are recorded, and are later used to blackmail the person involved”. Traffickers offer the victims to “either pay huge amounts of money or to continue to provide sexual services on request”.
This kind of initiation is common not only among girls. “There is high demand for boys in video chats as well”. Other ways of exploiting boys, include “of course, labor exploitation”, the Christian educator explains.
“STAY FREE PROJECT”: EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS
How to respond to this reality? The Valoare Plus group uses the Stay Free Project.
One of the intiatives is to “build support groups in every secondary school”. Marian and others speak to students directly in schools.
Almost all educational centres have been receptive and open host these workshops. “I am so thankfull that the schools in the area recognise the challenge and are willing to be partners in addressing the issue”. He is “grateful to God” for the great opportunity of “making these young people aware of the real world and the risks around them”.
More than 100 of these support groups have already been set up in the region, with more than 700 volunteers involved.
FUTURE VISION: CHANGING THE LAWS
The Christian group partners with the Romanian National Agency Against Human Trafficking, a “think tank” that brings together organisations who share the common aim of ending trafficking.
“Our aim for the long term is that by training and motivating these people we will be able to influence the administration and the law enforcement in Romania”, Paduret explains.
“In 10 or 12 years”, some of these people “will hold key positions in our country in all domains, and will have the motivation and the knowledge to change what our country needs in such a way that human trafficking will be addressed in a proper way”.
STRONG VALUES FOR SOCIETY
So, what neeeds to change in Romania to make sure that sex trafficking is eradicated?
“Civic education” is on of the key ingredients, says Paduret. “Romania has to make it a priority to train and educate the young generation according with the values that can give a strong foundation for a strong society”.
But the wider society needs to be involved as well. For example, “when people discover that a person was a victim of human trafficking, many people put a label on that person”. It is “very hard to live with this stigma, that is why many victims end up falling back into sexual eploitation schemes”.
“There is a lot on our part to do in training and educate society to change the way they view the victims of human trafficking”.
THE HURDLE OF CORRUPTION
In addition, “we need to build a stronger justice system, based on the law”, to “fight corruption better”. More integrity would reduce poverty and clearly reduce human trafficking.
And then, there is the need to “create a culture of hard work”. This is “something I see every day where I live: a lot of people that are social assisted, not encouraged to work at all. In order to offer better opportunities for our youth, we need to create a culture of rewarding the hard work”.
THE ROLE OF EVANGELICALS
Evangelical churches are called to be involved in this movement to fight sex trafficking.
Some churches are involved in this fight in other regions of the country, “but not in our region so far”, explains Paduret. “We hope more Christians will see the importance of this issue”.
“For many Christians, fighting human trafficking is perceived as a job for the authorities, not for the church. The church, in the cultural context of the Moldova regions in Romania, is also more traditional. We hope and pray for a change”.