Moldova Opens First Shelter for Male Victims of Trafficking

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There are over 25 million people forced to work in sectors such as agriculture, fishing, food processing, construction, and domestic work across the world. Overall, human trafficking creates US$150 million annually for criminal groups.

Media coverage of human trafficking often focuses on the lives ruined by sexual exploitation, as women are bought and sold, used up and ruined by daily abuse and humiliation.

A less discussed phenomenon is the trafficking and brutalization of men for forced labour. This cohort forms a majority of trafficking victims in the tiny Eastern European country of Moldova, where 87 of the 116 identified adult victims were men in 2020.

IOM in Moldova has just opened the country’s first trafficking shelter for male victims of trafficking.

Chief of Mission Lars Johan Lonnback explains: “The vast majority of trafficking victims and survivors, men, women and children, are broken by their experience. They may have illnesses, injuries and deep mental scars. Many come from poor rural communities, where they risk ostracization and ridicule on their return home. Plus they may have lost all their family’s savings and return home in debt, jobless and damaged.

“For this, they need treatment, rehabilitation and vocational training. There are several shelters where services are offered to female victims and we are delighted that these services can now be offered to men also, in the safe environment of the new shelter which we have assisted the authorities in establishing”.

H (name withheld) is one of the first people to benefit from the new service. He suffers from mental disorders and comes from a very poor and vulnerable family. He was trafficked within Moldova and suffered physical and psychological violence during his seven years of exploitation.

He made several unsuccessful attempts to escape from the abominable conditions in which he was imprisoned, and finally succeeded in 2020. His exploiter was arrested, and H is now getting the psychological, social, and legal support he needs for his reintegration into society. He is flourishing in his newfound sense of safety and security, saying “I am so happy now because I can take a shower every day and I can drink coffee. I find it fantastic.”

Specialists working with H already see positive changes in his health and well-being, noting reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress and increased feelings of trust towards others and in himself. With continued support, H has a clear vision for the future: “My dream is to find a job, to earn money and buy a mobile phone to talk every day with my mother and my brothers.”

COVID-19 is having an impact on human trafficking. On one hand, many people have lost their jobs and are economically and psychologically affected, increasing their vulnerability and becoming easier prey for traffickers. On the other hand, the closure of borders, suspension of flights, and other urgent measures restricted traffickers, just as it did legitimate businesses. Compared to 2019, there is a 50 percent decrease in adult victims identified and 79 per cent decrease in the number of minor victims in Moldova.

Lilia Pascal, a department head at Moldova’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection described the launch of the new male-specific services as “the end of a long and necessary journey in the national context. It will allow Moldova to continue to fulfill its commitment to support victims through specialized services, and to ensure equal access for all citizens, regardless of gender, to quality services.”

The initiative was the result of close collaboration between the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection, the National Agency for Social Assistance and IOM Moldova, the latter part funded by the US Department of State (J/TIP).