We will call her Maria*. She is 19 and the mother of two young sons. They live in Moldova.
Her mother died when Maria was young, and her father wasn’t around. She and her sister went to live with their grandparents, but things began to fall apart when her grandmother died. After a short while, Maria ran away from her grandfather to the city where her cousin lived. This same cousin introduced her to the streets, and with only a grade-9 education, Maria was prostituted for the first time. She was 13 years old.
We first met Maria during a volunteer training day for our Mobile Intervention Clinic. A Christian doctor and counselor, both trauma-trained, were teaching five volunteers how to provide pre- and post-counseling for women being tested for HIV/AIDS. While researching ways the church could address the problem of human trafficking in Moldova, we learned that this test is one service women in the sex trade said they would welcome. In response, we turned a van into a mobile clinic to provide rapid HIV/AIDS tests and health checks, as well as referrals to other services.
Maria was the first young woman we approached. We asked if she would like to be tested, and she timidly accepted the offer. Inside the van, she told us how she wound up in this life and was tested for HIV. Thankfully, the test came back negative, but Maria said she was worried that she was pregnant. She asked if we would stay until after she took a pregnancy test that she had already purchased. We agreed.
The test confirmed Maria’s suspicions. Her face fell. She said she was considering an abortion—she pitied the life another child might have with her. She still hoped to have more children later in life, though, and expressed concerns about problems with later pregnancies. The doctor confirmed that risks did exist. I shared with Maria our desire to help women in the sex trade exit and begin new lives.
I told her we could connect her with other organizations that can help. I told her we were there to walk alongside her and help in any way we could. While I spoke, Maria kept her eyes fixed downward, avoiding eye contact. But when we offered to take her to the doctor to get an ultrasound of the baby, Maria lifted her head and said she would like that. “When?” we asked. “Now,” she said. Three of us went with Maria to the doctor, who said her baby was already 11 weeks old. When Maria showed us the sonogram image, we celebrated with her. She didn’t talk anymore of abortion from that point.
Two weeks later, after frequent contact with our counselor, Maria visited a Christian residential restoration program for survivors of sex trafficking. While she didn’t make a decision that day, she did articulate a basic hope: “[I want] to have my family together with me.”
Maria left the residential program to go back to the streets. Unfortunately, that is common with highly traumatized victims who have known no other life. But we are not giving up on her.
Maria had her baby, a healthy little boy. We threw her a baby shower and offered support after the birth. We are still in relationship with her, and we continue to talk through alternatives for a new life for Maria and her children.
And we still hold on to hope.
Would you pray for Maria? Would you pray for the many other women who are caught in a cycle of exploitation in Moldova?
*Her name has been changed for privacy and protection.
This post is adapted from “Not for Sale: Hope for a Victim of Human Trafficking” by Rebecca Sukanen. The article originally appeared in NCM Magazine’s summer 2016 issue.