Romanian women are most at risk for sex trafficking

Romanian women are the group most at risk for sex trafficking by criminal networks not only due to poverty and lack of government focus, but also because of a culture that blames women “who knew what they were getting into.”

Ana Maria Luca
Ana Maria Luca NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Source: Balkan Insight
Romanian women are most at risk for sex trafficking - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

According to experts, Romania has been Europe’s sex trafficking hub for many years already. Female sex workers in most European capitals are primarily Romanian despite numerous information campaigns by the government and efforts by law enforcement to dismantle trafficking rings the situation continues and no one knows why.

A study released in May by the British parliament revealed shocking numbers collected by police from the UK’s so-called "pop-up" brothels --  in some places 85% of the sex workers were Romanians.

According to the article recommended below, the reasons for Romania's central role in sex trafficking are both criminal and social.

A Romanian mafia is spread across Europe comprised of groups specializing in sex trafficking, exploitation and panhandling. To draw women into the trade, Romanian traffickers use what is called the “loverboy method.” They begin a relationship with vulnerable women and, using psychological pressure, manipulate them into taking up sex work in order to maintain the relationship.

But these criminal methods are not the root cause of this phenomenon. The cause lies in the patriarchal mentality of Romanian society and, the implicit assumptions of government officials, who don’t see sex trafficking as a social problem requiring serious intervention. They see it as a personal choice by “depraved” women, or as the result of a certain ethnic group’s predisposition towards prostitution.

Details from the story:

  • Free movement across Europe, high poverty rates at home and lack of effective government policies have left thousands of Romanian women vulnerable to human trafficking networks.
  • The US State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons report described Romania as a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking, as well as for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour. 
  • Its previous yearly reports ended with the same conclusion: Romania has adopted plenty of legislation to combat sex trafficking, but it is not enforced.
  • Sex workers from Romania seem to make up the majority in Germany, Britain and Italy.
  • In Britain, Romanian women are the largest group identified among potential sex trafficking victims: 38% of the total, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade’s report on organized sexual exploitation, published on May 6.
  • Romanians also make the largest group (40%) of individuals under investigation for human trafficking in Britain in recent years.
  • While more and more cases of sex trafficking and exploitation of Romanian women and children have been revealed in Western Europe, Romania identified only 662 human trafficking victims in 2017, the lowest number in the past decade.
  • Experts and studies have proven that Romania still has a huge problem with the export of organized crime. Some international reports even attribute most human trafficking in Europe to Romanian crime syndicates.
  • Manipulation and control techniques of organized crime gangs over the victims have become so psychologically advanced that it is sometimes becomes difficult for victims to realize that they are being exploited -- in Britain, for instance, women are often under the impression that they are not exploited but went into prostitution willingly.
  • Victims rarely testify in court because there is no real protection system in place: there are no shelters, they don’t receive medical care and psychological support and their names are published in court records after the trials.
  • A recent study by Carusel NGO in Romania on independent sex workers in Romania found that most are mothers at risk of poverty, who do not have any other means to provide for the family and raise their children.
  • “After talking informally to policy makers and people from local administrations, I was surprised to find that they had absolutely no idea about all these things,” sociologist Dani Sandu said.
  • “Most were under the impression that sex workers have decent lives and are not part of the population at poverty risk that they’re supposed to take care of,” he concluded.
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