While human trafficking is a global issue, the growth in trafficking of women out of Eastern Europe into Western Europe over the past twenty years has been unparalleled to anywhere else on the globe. Europol, UNODC and IOM agree that there are no accurate data on human trafficking in Europe, only estimates around 1.5 million victims.

“We can check their documents but we cannot determine whether someone is here willingly or not,” says Eva Mielnicki, head of the human trafficking department of the Federal Police in Belgium. “We can only help when the victims report themselves and ask for an official case.”

Vulnerable young girls are tricked into a life of slavery, taken faraway from their country, with no ties to their families, forced into the sex trade, working in the sex industry without rights and without identities. Because trafficking victims are isolated and brutalized, speaking out to authorities is overtly difficult

“Criminal networks are better organized on an international level than our police and justice systems are. That makes the criminals stronger,” says Barbara, Director of Associone Mimosa, a non-governmental  anti-trafficking organization in Italy.

Romania is strategically placed transit point between the East and West Europe and even countries outside of the EU, the ideal crossroads for international slavery movement. The country’s 2007 admission into the European Union brought more relaxed border regulations and enhanced its attraction for international human traffickers.

I travelled to Romania, Italy and Belgium, documenting traffickers, heads of help organisations, law enforcement, sex workers and trafficking survivors to get insight into how nebulous and complex it is to combat human trafficking is within Europe and to shed light on the issue.