When Clara (the pastor’s wife and my hostess) tells me the ugly truths about life in Romania her voice and face are drained of all emotion, while mine are breaking up from emotions that can’t be contained. That is how she told me about Sandy. Clara and Leo have four children, and care for two other girls. I had met one of them, Ruth, last year. Ruth’s parents left her with her grandmother while they were divorcing. When each parent re-married, neither wanted Ruth, so she stayed with her grandmother until the grandmother’s death. At the time of the grandmother’s death, Ruth was six years old, and both parents had children with their new spouses. Clara and Leo took her in. The parents visit Ruth periodically, but Clara and Leo have legal guardianship of her.
When I heard Ruth’s story last year, I wondered how heartless people could be toward their own child—until this morning when I heard Sandy’s story. Clara and Leo took Sandy into their home on weekends two years ago after her mother died and her father left her with her grandmother. Clara asked about the mother’s death and learned that she had been forced into prostitution by her husband, and had died after a few years. She didn’t say what she had died of, but considering all the risks of prostitution it could be anything: AIDS or another STD, a drug overdose, murder, or suicide. Clara didn’t say, but it really doesn’t matter, it was a result of prostitution.
When she saw the look on my face, Clara said, “I don’t know if he tried to get work or just wanted the easy way.” I marveled at her refusal to judge a man who had prostituted the mother of his children. She went on to tell me that the grandmother is in poor health, and that Sandy has a handicapped brother, so she helps them after school, but stays with Clara and Leo on the weekends so that she can go to church and have a chance to be a kid. Knowing Clara the way I do, she probably also gives the grandmother money to help buy groceries and pay the bills.
But I wasn’t prepared for what came next. Clara told me that she worries about Sandy’s dad returning to take her and sell her into prostitution because she’s tall and pretty like her mother was. Sandy is twelve years old.
Again my face betrayed me. Clara shrugged and said, “This is a common story in Romania.” She said that some of the older girls from church send her notes, asking her and Leo to pray for them. They respond to advertisements for well-paying summer jobs in Budapest, and go with their parents’ blessing. Then when they arrive they learn that the work is prostitution. Too ashamed to tell their parents, they work as prostitutes for the summer, then come back home with much-needed money for the family, and resume normal life as a student. The notes always end the same way: begging Clara and Leo not to tell their parents.
Last year I had asked Clara about the issue of human trafficking. I had heard that Romania is one of the places where the women enslaved into prostitution come from. She told me about a little girl from their little city, Biberon: Christina was a pretty little blonde with blue eyes who her daughter, Elizabeth, knew from school. One day Christina was walking home from school with a friend. Just two blocks from home a man in a car pulled up to the curb and with urgency in his voice said to Christina, “Hurry! Get in the car! Your mother sent me to get you!” She got into the car and has never been seen or heard from again. Christina’s friend hadn’t thought to notice anything about the man or his car because she had also believed his story. This happened two years ago, when Christina was only ten years old. Most likely Christina has been raped, beaten, and trafficked to a country in Western Europe because she doesn’t need a passport to move about within the European Union.
Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, and slavery is illegal in virtually every country in the world. There are estimated to be more slaves today than in all the years of human history added together. And if you think it’s not happening where you live, think again. Check out your hometown on the slavery map: http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/. To read more about human trafficking, see: http://humantrafficking.org/.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke