Oana Mihaltan, was 21-years-old when she decided to leave the comfort of her home in Romania; leaving behind her parents and her sister to pursue her “American dream”. She landed in the San Francisco Bay Area with $50 in her pocket and two suitcases with clothes, towels, and bedsheets. Her English was almost nonexistent, but she received love and support from relatives, went to school, and has over 22 years of experience in business administration. She built a home, has a great family, and raised two beautiful children while working full time. Meanwhile, back in Romania, the government has given significant importance to human trafficking for over 15 years, and statistics show that in 2017, Romania saw a 12% fall in the victims' population, from 756 victims identified in 2016, to 662, identified in 2017.
Oana understands that like Romania, the United States is in dire need for the fight against sex trafficking to continue. By saving as many lives as possible through The Project S.T.E.P., her American dream will become a reality.
Oana recently visited one of California State Prisons and what started out as a skeptical visit turned out to be the encounter of a lifetime. During the visit, she met a man who was sentenced to 199 years-to-life plus four months. This draconian sentence was reduced from his original sentence of 229 years-to-life and eight consecutive life sentences. He has been incarcerated since 1999.
He began to talk to her about his life before being incarcerated beginning with his childhood. This is where it dawned on her that often the perpetrator comes from the same or similar environment as the victim. This man grew up in an abusive and dysfunctional household. His mother was a victim of sex trafficking and his father was a trafficker. He witnessed his father abuse his mother and force her and other women to have sex for money. As all this was happening, he was being sexually and emotionally abused by his older siblings and their friends. This man was simply a product of his environment. He didn't know he could live a more positive, fulfilling lifestyle as this very harsh one was embedded in him since childhood. This prompted Oana to do something about this atrocity that continues to plague our society.
Oana came to realize that hurt people hurt others while healed people can begin to help heal others. She believes if we can start the healing process for those who are hurting others in our society, we might be able to combat this atrocious behavior. Here at The Project S.T.E.P., we provide a Restorative Justice type of environment that allows individuals to feel safe talking about the childhood trauma that leads them to partake in this exploitative behavior.
This will give them a better understanding of the choices they have made and allows the healing process for them to begin.
Oana decided to open this nonprofit in hopes of working with young men and women who are the actual perpetrators of human trafficking, as well as pimping and pandering, so we could combat this from the source. Who'd know how to combat these crimes against humanity better than those who have committed such acts?
Oana Mihaltan -