where the police would take us to the forest. The boys, they would tie them up,
so if there were
two tree poles, they would tie their hands, then they would kick and hit them. And that’s where they
would leave us. They would leave the boys tied up. And then we, with pain and struggle, we would take
pieces of glass or tin, because you can find them all around, and then cut free all you can.”
- Tunde, 24-years-old, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Tunde was living with a gang of street youth when she was trafficked by her
boyfriend. The gang was
regularly assaulted by the police as easy targets.
As a victim of police brutality, Tunde and
her gang of homeless kids were routinely taken to a forest
outside the city, tied to trees, beaten and left to fend for themselves.
Revisiting this forest near the end of winter, Tunde found wildflowers scattered and peeking through
the dead leaves, and began to pick them up one by one. For nearly an hour, she quietly went about
gathering a bouquet, gently pacing the ground and reflecting.
Tunde grew up on the streets and was trafficked by her boyfriend.
They had two children together,
both of whom were taken away by social services because of his abuse. She has a third child with
another man, and is currently happily married.
“[the hole in
the hill] is built in, molded, so we would put in beds; we would bring them
from the trash,
sheets, whatever we could find, clothes, coats, and pillows. We would make food here on the wood logs,
something like this, so we could make food or take baths, otherwise we would go down to the Somes
[river] where we caught fish. We would bathe in cold water.”
- Tunde on life in a park tunnel, where she had lived with a gang of street
children. While she was living
there and in other makeshift homes around the city, she was trafficked by her boyfriend.
“We were a
very large gang (group), we would live here, where I showed you. It was me, my
boyfriend, my boyfriend, a whole bunch of us. [...] The hardest thing is to end up in a hole like this where
you can’t even put away your clothes neatly or to keep clean, only dirty is possible. It’s always dirty here.”
- Tunde, about one of the several places she lived in while on the streets. During that time, she was
trafficked by her boyfriend.
I came to earn money... It’s a place that people believe you stay at for a
special occasion, but [is
commonly used for sexual services]. And here you never know who you’ll get, or who you’ll come
across, because you don’t know him, you go only for the money... it was a horror. So, I would get
horrified as soon as I saw the car pull up. Or they would come take you by force. It was really bad."
Tunde was trafficked by her boyfriend with whom she lived on the streets.
“You went, but you had to be
careful. You were going into risk. So either you would come back well
with money in your pocket, or you would come back beaten without anything. So very many things
Tunde, about the street corner where girls worked. Her boyfriend forced her into sex work.
trafficker, the father of her children, is currently in jail for unrelated
crimes. Today, she is
happily married to a different man, but two of her children were taken from her by social services.
Tunde, her husband and a third child live in poverty, and they are struggling to make ends meet each
month. Her biggest wish is a little house with a garden for her family.
“Police caught him
and took him to the minors’ center where there were a bunch of children who had
run away from their parents and who were abandoned from families who were disorganized and didn’t
have their head on their shoulders. [H]e stayed some two months and a bit then he was taken far away
from the town where he was born he was too small to realize where he would be taken and he said
goodbye to the other kids, where he had learned somewhat how to write and draw like a little child."
- Tibi, 27-years-old, trafficked his girlfriend Tunde while living on the streets of Cluj-Napoca with her.
He wrote about his life in a letter from prison where he
is being held for unrelated crimes, and used
the third person throughout to refer to himself. This overrun orphanage (“minors’ center”) where he
spent some of his childhood is still in use, though conditions have improved.
This excerpt from his letters is a literal translation.
“In this journal we are talking
about a little boy who was born in a small town named Satu-Mare
(“The Big Village”). He says that at the age of six-years-old, he was always troubled of how he was small
and loved at his age he thought that in some 5-6 years he would become a man with a [good] head on
his shoulders. But his Mother had, a single saying [:] won’t you go to make money because mom doesn’t
have anything to drink.”
- An excerpt from Tibi’s letter from
Tibi, 27, trafficked his girlfriend Tunde on the streets of Cluj-Napoca, Romania. As a young child
living in the northern town of Satu-Mare, he was sent by his mother and grandmother to beg for
money in the marketplace.
Tibi, who trafficked his young
girlfriend Tunde on the streets of Cluj-Napoca, Romania, spent much of his
childhood at this address—his grandmother’s house outside of Satu-Mare, Romania, a two-hour drive
from Cluj-Napoca through the mountain region of Transylvania. The fountain is all that remains of the old
home; everything else has been torn down and rebuilt by the current inhabitants. Upon moving in, they
learned from the neighbors and the village priest of the violent life that the original gypsy family led.
Tibi’s mother had her throat slashed and was murdered at this fountain by an estranged lover.
having been left without a father at a young age, I had to get a job, to bring
some money home.
Being the oldest, I got a job, at a grocery store first, then I started to look for work in bars. I don’t know...
that’s how I stumbled upon a bar as a bartender-waitress.”
- Ligia, 34-years-old, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
The bar where Ligia worked for a year about a decade ago was the site of some
horrific instances of
human trafficking. Ligia’s boss was prosecuted for this crime and many others and served time in jail
(at the time of this photograph, he was a free man). The case made headlines in Cluj-Napoca.
spent a few months in treatment in this room at the local mental hospital for a
that resulted from her work at the bar.
to have the will, to know what you’re fighting for in life. [You have to know]
whether you want
to overcome this phase, or whether you want to stay the same, you and your thoughts.”
34-years-old, in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, at the mental ward where she was
hospitalized twice as
a result of witnessing horrific instances of women battered and trafficked while working as a waitress
at a bar.
“Only once I went to the other
club, [...] Moni’s [...] was a much more select club. I don’t know if it still
exists, but even presidents went there. The president of the country went there; it also had girls, but it
was much more select. There they played more games, it was different, much more select. And they
also had bedrooms upstairs. It was a kind of hotel-bar. They could sleep there overnight. Whereas here
with us, it was just non-stop (24 hours). I went when they did an inventory and they needed me there.”
- Ligia, 34 years old,
Cluj-Napoca, Romania, talking about the club owned by her boss’ brother. Her
the owner of a club she worked for, was prosecuted and jailed for human trafficking and other crimes
in a high-profile case in the mid-2000s.
“Yes, it was here. Because that’s
where he lives. He called his lawyer and said that look, the masked
police (a.k.a., special unit) is looking for me. What do I do? And the first day he locked the door, he didn’t
want to come out, and then his lawyer told him that now you don’t have an option, you have to turn
yourself in. And he didn’t have a choice; he had to turn himself in. This is where they picked him up,
yes, right from his home.”
- Ligia describing her boss’
arrest. He was arrested for human trafficking and other crimes. He is now a
“They wouldn’t even let me [stand]
at the gate. They wouldn’t let me go out into the village. I ran once
here through the village, and I was running along, I don’t even remember what street it was. Lord! I
would take off in the fields. His father would chase me with the belt.”
- Cristina, 22-years-old, talking
about the house in which she lived with her boyfriend’s family in a village
outside Timisoara, Romania. Cristina, who was trafficked in Germany at 17, grew up mostly on the
streets. Violence makes up a large part of street youth’s lives.
“Yes, but then he would catch
me...how do I put this...when I would leave the minors’ center, he would
catch me. For example, I would go out into town to make money for cigarettes or something else,
and then he would catch me because I wasn’t (paying attention). I’d be walking through the center
of town, and all of a sudden he would grab me and I couldn’t leave. And then he would take me either
to Gearmata, or here to the pipes, he would find a place to take me to stay with him. And then when as
soon as I caught him sleeping or something, again I would run away from him.”
- Cristina, 22 years old, talking
about living on the pipes in Timisoara, Romania, and frequently run-
ning away from an abusive ex-boyfriend, pictured here. Cristina, who was trafficked in Germany at 17,
grew up mostly on the streets. Cristina is now happily married to another man, though still living on
“And also because of Rita I
hooked up with him. Because he would come by where we were living in
some canals by the Little (train) Station, there, in some great pipes, and he would come by, and she
hooked me up with him, because I didn’t want to be with him.”
- Cristina spent
some of her street life living on the pipes in Timisoara, Romania—the city that
freedom from communism by igniting the 1989 Revolution. Rita was an older girl who made money off
minors living on the street by forcing them into sex work. At one point while living on the pipes, Cristina
was pregnant. The pipes act as a conduit for hot water to the city and keep homeless youth warm in the
under a bridge in Timisoara with her husband and a group of other
street youth. The bridge
is drafty and chilly. She grew up on mostly on the streets and was trafficked both internally and in
Germany. As a teenager, she would shave her head to look like a boy.
day, a girl named Calia, with her man, his name was Piti, they came and here he
Since I was small, they grabbed me with their hands. And they brought me here, supposedly to sleep.
And here they...they drugged me up with the bag, aurolac (glue), I didn’t know how to sniff it. And I got
dizzy and I was overcome by sleep."
Cristina grew up on the streets of Timisoara, the Romanian city that brought
the 1989 Revolution and
the end of communism.
[visited me at the restaurant where I worked] in the [shopping] complex and for
a whole month she
was on me and kept telling me, come with me over there because you’ll work with me at a restaurant,
you will bus tables, and so on. And I told her I didn’t want to go, what if you’re lying to me and will take
me somewhere else?"
22-years-old, Timisoara, Romania
When Cristina was 17-years-old, she was talked into going to Germany by the woman who visited her
at the restaurant and her husband. The bussing job turned out to be prostitution. She was sold to a
VIP brothel for 1800 euros, and locked in for about 5 months. Her cost was 150 euros/hour, but the
money was not hers to keep. With another woman from the brothel, she managed to escape and catch
a bus back to Romania.
under a bridge in Timisoara with her husband and a group of other
street youth. At this time,
she was in the process of getting her papers with the help of a local psychologist. Because she had
spent most of her life on the streets, this was an extremely difficult process that had been going on for
“When I was a minor, [I was
living] in the children’s home. But now, I’m no longer a minor, and I live
And I’m afraid of the rain.”
- Crina, 23-years -old from Timisoara,
Romania makes her home in this abandoned car. Like many
street youth, she is addicted to sniffing glue, which curbs hunger and cold. She is frequently raped and
abused, and has turned herself into a loner. A local psychologist who works with street youth identified
Crina as a victim of trafficking.
“I’m missing three windows in the car!”
- Crina spent the winter in this broken-down and abandoned car left on a busy suburban street nearby a
public park in Timisoara, Romania.
parents have left me; it’s been almost 6 years now, and I don’t know, I feel
lonely, upset. It’s like
I don’t have any solace. My sister died. I have no comfort. Only constant upsets. But, God will help me
get over all this too.”
Crina, at "Phantom House", an abandoned building near a local college campus in Timisoara where
she sought shelter as a homeless teen and was gang raped.
“I’ve always considered my life to be a bitter coffee. But I didn’t let it get to me.”
Crina spent some time living in an abandoned building known as the "Phantom House” with her sister,
who died in an accident. Like many street youth, she is addicted to sniffing glue, which curbs hunger and
cold. She is frequently raped and abused, and has turned herself into a loner. A local psychologist who
works with street youth identified Crina as a victim of trafficking.
to find love. To find love, for someone to love you, it’s harder. I’ve been
through many things,
and I’ve loved but been betrayed.”
Crina was raped and battered here at the Phantom House where she sought shelter with her sister.
“She was feeling
bad, there was no money in the house, and everyone began to put pressure on
I asked what she meant by pressure. So, she was feeling weakness in her legs, and they started to beat
- Case worker
translating for Zalushka, who, at 34-years-old is severely disabled as a result of multiple
beatings and drug abuse. Zalushka went from her native Moldova to Ukraine to earn money in order
to be reunited with her daughter who was taken from her by the state. There, she met a man whose
family abused her and forced her to beg and work on the streets.
result of beatings and drug abuse in Ukraine by her husband’s family, Zalushka
is severely disabled:
her speech is slurred and difficult, and her movement is severely impaired. She now lives in an after-care
center for trafficked women in Balti, Moldova.
34-years-old, resides in a temporary shelter for trafficked women in Balti,
Moldova. She is the
center’s longest inhabitant, having far overstayed the customary three to six months timeframe allowed
for most women seeking refuge. The deteriorating state of her physical health and lack of familial
support determined the staff to keep her on the premises.
was forced to beg on the streets of Ukraine by her husband’s family, who kept a
on her and beat her to ensure her obedience.
this and made it so that, in order to escape and run away, I stole a wallet
with money from a
person in order to be locked up again so that I could get away from this situation.”
- Zalushka, on how she was able to escape from Ukraine.
Andrea scavenges for edible plants in the fields outside of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.
Two years before, burdened with an unemployed, abusive husband and three young
decided to go work abroad. She learned of a job in a store in Turkey and went with another woman.
Once in Turkey, the two were locked up in an apartment and their paperwork destroyed. They were
forced into prostitution for two months. The woman pimp beat and starved them when they disobeyed.
They were released in a raid when the neighbors called the police after much screaming, and eventually
found their way back to Moldova.
Andrea reveals a
bruise that her ill-tempered husband had recently left on her. Two years prior, she left
for Turkey to provide for her family of three young children, and was locked up by traffickers in an apart-
ment which she eventually escaped. She is now back with her abusive partner in her native Moldova,
making ends meet.
Leaving Turkey, Andrea returned to her abusive
husband in Moldova, determined not to tell anyone
about being locked up and trafficked in an apartment for two months. For fear of rumors spreading, she
told everyone instead that she had been locked in a basement and forced to wash floors without pay.
Eventually, she shared the real story with her sister, who brought her to an after-care center.
Andrea currently lives on the outskirts of Chisinau in a complex of makeshift homes.
Like many survivors of human
trafficking in Moldova, Andrea lives among other impoverished families in
communities made up of make-shift homes.
Natasha, 26-years-old and suffering from
mental illness resides in this rancid and dirty, pitch-dark bedroom
in her mother’s house on the outskirts of Chisinau, Moldova.
She left for Moscow to work in a restaurant prior to this, but ended up trafficked on the streets instead.
One day, an unidentified driver ran his car into her and a group of street girls. She suffered physical
injuries and her already poor mental condition worsened. According to her file in an after-care center
where she came and went, “men (from her home village in Moldova) started coming over (to this room),
taking her away and abusing her, whoever pleased.”
Natasha, in poor mental condition, emerged from her mother’s house howling,
dancing, and curtsying. Her
mother has resigned to allow the village men to come into the house at night and use Natasha as they
please, taking advantage of her reputation as a prostitute in Russia.
from schizophrenia, Natasha will often visit a nearby bar to seek a cigarette
or an ice-cream from
men in exchange for sex. Feeling dirty, she would also trade in wet towelettes. Sometimes, Natasha will
disappear for days, but her family does not question where and how she is. This bar that she frequents
is down the street from her mother’s house in a village outside Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.