Where are the young women, the girls of Romania? If they are not hidden, they are trafficked. That is a harsh reality in a country of harsh living.
Stefania is 18 and a rarity. She still lives in a rural home with her father, in a ramshackle house with no electricity. She dreams of going away “somewhere” for an education and is resolute that she will never take money from a man.
Then there is Christina. Nightly, her mother would prepare her daughter for her night of work: feeding her, setting out her clothes and condoms. Christina – who has since disappeared – has been supporting her family since age 14 by prostitution.
According to the U.S. State Department’s 2014 “Trafficking in Persons” report, one-third of Romania’s trafficking victims are underage girls.
There, traffickers have a keen eye for those made vulnerable by their desperation to leave, making the girls ideal victims. The Eurostat 2015 report notes that Romania was one of the top five countries of origin for victims of human trafficking in the EU, as registered by organizations (governmental and nongovernmental) throughout the bloc.
According to ADPARE, a nonprofit group working to prevent trafficking and protect its victims in Romania, fueling the problem is the region’s emergence as a sex industry destination. The country is routinely listed as a top destination on websites promoting and rating sex tourism.
Even those who should be protecting these children (like parents and priests) rarely acknowledge it. Romania’s culture – one where women and girls have virtually no rights – means that the disappearance and trafficking of its daughters is treated with shame. Young girls are often told simply to stay away from “bad men.” Yet, young girls living in impoverished situations are easily led away from home by a “boyfriend” who showers her with gifts; he could not be the “bad man” she’d been warned about, could he?
Adding to the problem is the lack of rule of law and the high level of corruption in the country. Police offer no protection; in fact, they often partake of the girls’ “services.”
If the girls are able to escape “the life,” they often have nowhere to go. They are considered tainted, and many families refuse to take them back. At one shelter, the girls are referred to as “the whores on the hill.”
Poverty and lack of education means many girls and young women will continue to find themselves lost in the world of sex trafficking. Sadly, too few people care.