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ASHOKA: Dismantling Systems of Human Trafficking – Europe

To combat human trafficking made possible by many elements of society, Ashoka Fellow Ioana Bauer is taking the whole enabling system apart.

Romania is the epicenter of trafficking in Europe. Of all European countries, Romania has the highest number of identified labor and sex trafficking victims, nearly half of whom are minors. Globally, human trafficking is an industry worth 150 billion dollars annually and directly impact at least 40 million people who are currently living in some form of slavery.

To have any serious impact on trafficking, Ioana knew that she had to change the culture in which vulnerable young people are growing up. A teen’s peers have significant influence on her life, so Ioana focused on building awareness among teens so that they can protect each other. She now has mandatory anti-trafficking courses in all high schools. She also created a program that has trained over 6,000 teachers how to understand the system, spot the symptoms of trouble, and know how to intervene. These teachers are helping build their students’ understanding so they can act as collective antibodies. Going further, Ioana has recruited beauticians to join her fight against trafficking. After going through training, they are able to spot danger signs in their young clients’ conversations and effectively intervene.

To attack the trafficking system at its roots, Ioana’s organization eLiberare focuses on shifting the mindsets and behaviors of citizens through lobbying, education, and public campaigns. After pinpointing an area where they could have maximum impact, her team identifies the most powerful stakeholders and partners with them to target at-risk groups.

Recognizing the key role peers can play in preventing trafficking, eLiberare has persuaded the government to require anti-trafficking classes for all teenagers in Romania. Ioana designed engaging sessions that help students see how the whole system works – from the initial enticement on the web – and how to help their friends. Over 600,000 high school students have received this training, plus thousands of teachers have become certified to recognize warning signs and respond to human trafficking threats.

eLiberare’s tools are designed to spread. Ioana has translated the course materials into English and is piloting trafficking awareness programs in 18 other countries. One example is “Hidden in Plain Sight,” a manual for community members, and “Trauma-Informed Care” for first responders. Through her training and campaign efforts, eLiberare has reached a milestone – every Romanian embassy in the EU has a professionally trained person available to identify victims of human trafficking and prevent further exploitation.

To drive the movement, eLiberare also lobbies for policy changes to address trafficking. They launch influential social media campaigns that reach a wide public audience. A recent campaign reached 150,000 people offline and 727, 700 online – with 84 percent of viewers reading the entire page.

Ioana’s anti-trafficking approach has spread to nearly 20 other countries.