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Iana Matei

Romania , Class of 2006

Iana Matei

OSCE/Blanca Tapia, Image ID: 7081 (Cropped)


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At one time driven from her country, Iana Matei returned in the late 1990s only to discover a problem lurking in the shadows: modern-day slavery. Dedicating her time, her money, her effort, she operated for many years what was the only shelter in Romania for victims of human trafficking.

Her story has been written about in the New York Times, she has published several books, and been filmed by CNN. Ms. Matei returned to Romania in 1998 to work with street youths, after fleeing the country in the early 1990s. It was by a chance phone call from the police that she came across several teenage girls who had been sold into sex slavery. She took them to the hospital. They were terrified, freezing, and didn’t know what to do. She rented an apartment that they stayed at after they were released from the hospital. Then, shortly after that, the IOM contacted her about other young women who needed a place to stay. So she rented another apartment. After that, she began working tirelessly to help free those who were in sex slavery, and provide housing and counseling for the survivors.

She founded the organization Reaching Out Romania, an organization that runs several shelters around Romania, and regularly engages young women on the streets in outreach attempts to those who may be enslaved. Since 1999, they have provided services and support to over 470 victims of human trafficking. The organization takes in victims who have been referred to them, usually by NGOs or local law enforcement, and also pursues and finds girls who may be enslaved on the streets of the major cities in Romania. The organization has attempted to provide other sorts of programs as well, including prevention programs. The work that they do in aftercare is essential to the recovery process for the young women they have rescued, or who have been directed to their door. They continue to provide support for as long as they can, and keep in touch with the survivors while they attempt to re-integrate into the world. Many of the girls that Ms. Matei works with are Romanian girls who have been trafficked abroad, often to places such as Italy or Spain. In 2006, Ms. Matei was named as a TIP Hero in the 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report for the work she had completed.

In 2014, Romania was listed as a Tier 2 country. Romania is a significant source country for many of Europe’s trafficked people. Romanian women are found in prostitution rings all around Europe, and forced labor is also a problem. The main problem, still, is lack of government funding and support for victim services and support. Iana Matei, and the more recent TIP Hero Monica Boseff, are attempting to fill this gap but more support is necessary, and more needs to be done.

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