Trafficking: Their Captivity is Psychological Not Physical 

Written by Courtney Bolander, Founder of Radiant Hope

Written by Courtney Bolander, Founder of Radiant Hope

As I was exposed to the injustice of human trafficking around the world, a desire to go deeper into the heart of the vulnerable emerged.

I accidentally stumbled across the issue of human trafficking when doing some research eight years ago. After hours of reading stories, researching statistics, and learning as much as I could, I closed my laptop and knew in that moment that I had just discovered my passion. In the years that followed, I co-led an anti-human trafficking campaign, volunteered with organizations, and traveled the world to learn firsthand about human trafficking. I really wanted to tackle the root causes that led to a person becoming a victim of human trafficking. I found that so often, outside of poverty and mere survival, trafficking victims were being manipulated by their own pain and traumas. This is what I want to change.

Now, I live and work in Romania with my husband as we fight for these vulnerable children. Our goal at Radiant Hope is to create spaces where girls and women can find healing, belonging, and friendship. Ultimately, we want to reduce their vulnerability to injustice and prevent exploitation. We currently have three programs in Eastern Romania:

    • Flourish Groups: Trauma-informed small groups for girls living in government orphanages and at-risk situations

    • Cultivate: Ongoing training and support for local government departments and NGOs

    • Justice Collective: A collaborative network of NGOs in Romania and across Europe who are working to protect women and children

*Please note that the majority of the girls we work with are at-risk to trafficking and not survivors. We do have a few that are currently being exploited so we are working to change this reality for those girls.

In Romania, trafficking mostly stems from poverty, lack of opportunity, and unmet emotional and relational needs. It doesn’t matter if they are from a family or an orphanage, if a child has faced neglect, abuse or a toxic living environment, it’s extremely likely that their most basic human needs of safety, love and belonging have not been met. This makes them very easy to manipulate. An easy example is if the father has left the family, a trafficker will enter the picture and say, “I know your dad left you, but I would never do that to you. I will always be here. It’s you and me forever.”

While many of us are able to see through the lies, these children often have a low level of discernment because they’ve never been taught the difference between safe and unsafe people or healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Traffickers are able to provide a sense of love, belonging and individual attention. When you’ve grown up in a group or foster home, or have experienced neglect, you very rarely get the full attention of another person. You don’t get the experience of being deeply loved and cared for. Traffickers are really good at meeting these unmet needs and desires. Even the boys who are recruited to become pimps find a sense of family and belonging with the guys who are training them.

The chance of a child being reunified with family after being trafficked really depends on each child’s individual circumstances. Romania is currently making huge efforts to comply with EU standards by shutting down large institutions (orphanages). As a result, some children are being reunified with their families. However, in terms of trafficking, it’s more rare that they go back with their families. This could be because their families refuse to accept them, the family facilitated the trafficking or they were trafficked to another country and choose to stay there to take advantage of the opportunity to recover, find dignifying work, and have a fresh start.

Unfortunately where we live there are not many resources available in terms of recovery or specialized counseling. These kids are also typically very detached from their trauma so it’s difficult for them to process what’s happened to them in a realistic way. Because of their histories and the highly-sexualized culture that we’re in, it can be difficult for them to understand that what’s happening to them is wrong. Their captivity is psychological not physical.

While human trafficking is a horrible reality, we also must remember that there are people being exploited within a “gray area” that is equally as devastating. We have several girls in our midst that have either entered prostitution with a pimp or who have done so for survival or to simply feel loved and needed in this world. These girls are part of our program and they show up week in and week out to receive the love and safety that we provide. They are some of our most consistent participants. We feed them, stand with them during moments of crisis, and provide a different experience of connection than they receive elsewhere. It’s an honor to hold their hands, kiss their cheeks, and hug their precious bodies as we declare the truth that they are worthy and made for more.

We live in a very apathetic society, one that doesn’t see the urgency to pursue justice because they know that bureaucracy will stand in the way. In the moments when all hope seems lost, I just take a look into their eyes and am reminded of the declaration I made to myself a long time ago: not one of my girls. They are worth more and we are going to do everything in our power to see their restoration, healing and intended purpose become a reality.

To learn more about getting involved with Radiant Hope, visit our website! Any new recurring plans or one-time donations go directly towards our Romania Project. We are also looking for translators. If you or someone you know is a fluent Romanian speaker, we have an ongoing need for translation of materials to use in our groups and trainings.

Check out Radiant Hope on Instagram and their Website! Also, follow along with Courtney on Instagram!

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