Christian human trafficking expert recognized as Romanian ‘Woman of the Year’

Iana Matei was recently named “Woman of the Year” by the Romania government.

Iana is the founder and executive director of Reaching Out Romania, a safe house for survivors of human trafficking. Reaching Out has a one-year program to restore the lives of young women rescued out of sex slavery.

Iana is a psychologist who has been running this program for more than 10 years and is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities in the area of human trafficking.

Iana has received many awards and acknowledgements including her recognition in 2006 as one of just 10 “Heroes around the world working to end modern-day slavery” by the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Division.

Iana has fought to help these young women go back to school or learn a trade, all while giving them a safe place where they can talk about the horrors they’ve endured. Under Iana’s care they learn what it is like – maybe for the first time – to have someone in their life that they can trust. Iana is someone who sees each girl as an individual child of God with an unlimited future and the chance to start a new life.

Iana is a Christian woman with an amazing testimony. She was a political refugee to Australia, having fled Romania during the communist regime. She lived in Australia and worked with street children for 10 years. When she returned to Romania for a visit, Iana realized that the children in Romania had it much worse than those in Australia. She felt compelled to go back to Romania to help the children there, and shortly thereafter opened the safe house, she says.

Iana was also featured in a program on CBS’s “48 Hours” entitled “Rescued from slavery,” where reporter Peter Van Sant actually purchased a young lady for $1,800.

Reaching Out Romania took her in to care for her, and, as a result of this program, the Nashville-based Free For Life Ministries was formed.

Iana told the program that many women who have been sold into human trafficking are written off, because they believe they chose to pursue prostitution.

“Young girls and women, bought and sold, first to work in prostitution. That’s slavery,” she says. “We choose to believe that they are prostitutes, and we don’t look into it.”

After watching the program, Founder and President Colette Wise Bercu was so touched by the work that Reaching Out was performing that she contacted Iana. She soon learned that safe houses such as Iana’s need financial support, and she decided to start a non-profit faith-based organization to support those on the front lines in the fight against human trafficking.

Despite successfully bringing more than 200 girls through her one-year program and an 86 percent success rate, Iana has struggled to keep the shelter open due to lack of finances. Once a young girl makes it to the shelter, every need is met free of charge including food, housing, clothing, medical care, lawyers and vocational training.

Free for Life Ministries now provides financial, emotional and spiritual support for organizations fighting human trafficking and has been helping Iana tell her story for three years. Free for Life currently works to support safe houses in Romania, Nepal, India and Nicaragua.

For more information, visit or call 615-969-9052.


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