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Anna's trip to Romania. Anna is a trainee human rights lawer and RAP were delighted to facilitate her trip.
My Trip to Romania
As a law student with an interest in human rights I went to Romania hoping to gain more of an insight into the issue of human trafficking, an issue hugely prevalent in Romania. I was also very interested in the preventative and legal work being done in order to combat this issue. I was in Romania for a total of 3 ½ weeks. My time there has definitely shown me that I hope to be able to work in the future with organizations- such as the ones I spent time with – to tackle some of the big overarching social issues which face us today. My time in Romania has given me the belief that it is so important to spend time in and understand a culture and society before you try and tackle any ‘problems’ you may see in it – as without an understanding it is almost impossible to identify the fundamental root causes of these overarching issues.
The primary organization I spent my time with was eLiberare - they are concerned with the prevention of human trafficking through education, awareness raising etc. My main task while there was to work alongside the other intern to research and create the basis of a volunteer training manual to be used throughout Bucharest and beyond to train those who wish to volunteer with survivors of trafficking. The key focusses of the research I was doing were as follows:
- Understanding the mindset and mental state of a survivor of trafficking; for example the bond they may feel with the trafficker (be that for reasons of affection, or for fear of harm to them or their family if they disobey them), the impact of trauma on the way that person thinks and the different triggers which may send a person into a state of fear
- The theories behind, and practical methods of, practicing trauma informed care. This essentially focusses on an understanding that the brain of a survivor may work slightly differently as a result of the deeply traumatic experiences they have suffered; it then takes this understanding and uses it to enhance the healing process by reconsidering the way these people are treated and disciplined.
- There was also a section on vicarious traumatization (in which care givers and volunteers start to display physical and mental symptoms similar to those we may expect from the suffers they are working with) and methods to prevent or minimize the impact of this which I found very interesting as it was an issue that had never come to mind before.
I also spent a few days with Mirela - who works as the lawyer for the Open Doors Shelter for woman who have been rescued from trafficking. She was extremely generous to me, taking a few days out of her (incredibly) busy schedule to tell me all she knew and all about the incredible work she’s been doing. In addition, she took me around all the different courts that there are in Bucharest – and a couple of the administrative buildings – explaining what work went on in each and all the procedural aspects (…and thus procedural frustrations!) involved.
She also shared with me her plans to create and run an ‘Acadamie Anti-Traffic’ for law students who wish to get involved in the fight against trafficking. Her aim was to extend this to foreign students and has told me should would be keen for me to return and undertake this programme, and perhaps have a hand in running it. This is very much a potential opportunity I will bear in mind.
What I Gained
I gained a much deeper understanding of the root causes of human trafficking - the personal situations, governmental position and also societal outlook which can increase the prevalence of it. In addition, I now have a deeper insight into what practical help and support is required by those who have recently been through trafficking, and also a greater understanding of the reasons why so many chose to return multiple times to their trafficker. On a personal level I feel I gained a sense of independence and confidence that I could probably only have gained from turning up to a completely new city, where I knew no one, to live and work their for a month!
Highs & Lows
- As warned the level of disorganization and lack of communication was somewhat frustrating, especially as
- The level of religious emphasis amongst everyone I met and worked with was something I personally found challenging. To me the focus on practicing religion in order to be part of many of the major organizations working to fight trafficking was highly frustrating as I feel this unnecessarily limits the help that many non-religious people like myself are keen to offer.
-Another frustration for me was that communication with Monica at open doors had suggested that I could spend a week staying in the shelter to get a grasp of what they were doing, however when I met her she was reticent to let me spend even an hour there so in the end I didn’t really spend any time gaining an insight into that side of the matter.
- Meeting Mirela and the kindness, generosity and insight she offered me stands out as incredible highlight. The understanding that she has about the legal issues regarding trafficking, and the flaws in the legal/governmental system which need to be fixed before these can be overcome is evidently invaluable.
-Another highlight for me was knowing that the work I was doing would have real and practical utility throughout Bucharest and beyond to help improve the services available to those who are survivors of trafficking situations
-Further, I really loved discovering Bucharest. On initial encounter it seemed very imposing and dirty and in places very run down but actually when I spent time exploring it there were so many interesting shops and cafes and beautiful parks. My friend Kirsty visited for a weekend and we had a wonderful time visiting the cool bars and seeing the touristy sights.
-Everyone working at the eLiberare was quite young and there was very much a community/family vibe which was absolutely lovely. Twice a week we all ate a home cooked lunch together and often did things out with office hours. This was especially nice for me as I was there alone.
Human Rights Issues
There are evidently a huge number of human rights issues which arise when you look at the issue of trafficking relating to the right not to suffer mistreatment, the right to personal freedom, freedom of speech etc. However, I think the thing which struck me most was that it was blatant to me the real root of many of these issues, which is what I have decided to focus on.
From spending time in Bucharest I found it abundantly and unpleasantly apparent that there is a wide spread perception of woman as ‘objects’ to be ‘admired’ amongst the male population. I couldn’t go out anywhere without having me – of all ages, some even while with their sons – stop in their tracks and stare until I was out of sight. Prolonged cat calling was an almost daily occurrence also. It was clear from talking to the other interns that these issues were noticed by them too. Against this background it is easy to see why sex trafficking is such an issue, society breeds a view that woman are there to be used and this means they become very vulnerable to exploitation. It seems to me that before any progress can really be made in tackling trafficking this fundamental outlook/perception will need to be challenged.
I met with Madalina from the CEDCD and talked about the work she does fighting for inclusive education for children who have special needs. I found her an incredibly inspirational and selfless woman doing incredibly thankless but necessary work. What really struck me was her frustration with the lack of understanding – or even knowledge – of the true (awful) state of special needs education in Romania, a European country. Essentially the special needs schools, which any child who does have some for of difficulty is essentially required to attend, are just ‘holding pens’ for while the parents work – no real education is given. In addition the children routinely still suffer sedation and physical manhandling. Evidently, Madalina found it highly frustrating trying to make her voice heard – both in Romania and the wider Europe – and I have offered my services should she ever find herself in need of a ‘Scottish voice’.
Lastly, here is a link to a recent story on human trafficking by the BBC which links in Anna's story-