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Meet Romania's Sex-Trafficking Adversary

She thought she would be a graphic designer, but 52-year-old Iana Matei has emerged as the Oskar Schindler of sex-trafficking victims. Matei runs a shelter in Romania for women as young as 14 who usually hail from poor, abusive families, lured to foreign countries with promises of jobs or marriage, or even sold into prostitution by their own families. The girls are then sold to gangs and are either locked up in brothels, or work the streets. In 1990, Matei fled Romania after being wanted by police for taking part in a protest, and resettled with her son in Australia, earning a degree in psychology and working with street children. A holiday trip back to Romania in 1998, however, opened her eyes to sex trafficking. She was asked by police to transport three young prostitutes to a doctor, and was supposed to release them after. “Eventually, I got an apartment for them, and more girls kept coming,” said Matei. “That’s how it started.” Today, her shelter is supported by Make Way Partners in Birmingham, Alabama—an American ministry dedicated to combating human trafficking—and more than 400 girls have stayed in the shelter. As for the three young prostitutes, they’re now married with children.