PowerBlog readers will have noticed a strong, and from my point of view justified, negative reaction here to Elise Hilton’s Aug. 11 post titled, “The Lost Girls of Romania: A Nation of Sex Trafficking.” Commenters referred to the post as offensive and poorly researched. As editor with overall responsibility for the PowerBlog, I want to address the many comments we’ve received that take issue with Hilton’s characterization of Romania and Romanian women.
Before we go any further, I want to note that anyone who writes regularly for publication will invariably make errors of fact and error of analysis. In a long career in journalism and other editorial work, I certainly have made my share. The responsibility of the writer and editor is to be accountable to readers and correct the record when needed.
This post missed the mark. It should not have relied on a single Al Jazeera article to make assertions that in Romania “women and girls have virtually no rights.” What’s more, the sweeping generalization that in Romania if women “are not hidden, they are trafficked” is patently untrue. I’ve been to Bucharest, a beautiful European capital, and this statement does not describe what I saw there. I’ve also been blessed to get to know many Romanian families who worship at my Greek Orthodox parish and have found them to be unfailingly kind, hospitable and productive. Romania is an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian culture, but has significant populations of Roman Catholics and Protestants and small numbers of Muslims. As for the Church, Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel has been unequivocal in his condemnation of human trafficking. The following is from a statement he made in 2009:
Given the fact that the trafficking in persons is a well-organized trans-national criminal phenomenon that cannot be separated from the international migration, the interventions for combating the phenomenon must involve the conjugated efforts of all the countries affected.
We think the trafficking in persons is a serious sin as well as a social danger which affects the dignity of the person, depersonalises the human being, destroys humans physically and spiritually, and turns them into slaves, into merchandise, with no value as persons, into a source of profit, implicitly degrading the human society. God has not given the right of life and death over the human being to anybody and nobody is entitled to change the human person into an object of profit.
If anything, the crisis Patriarch Daniel pointed to has only become much greater in light of the mass exodus of migrants leaving war-torn Africa and the Middle East. We see this now almost daily in places like Greece and Italy. See “40 migrants die off Italy as EU faces ‘worst crisis since WWII'” here. A recent report in a Serbian news portal highlighted fears that the whole of Syria will soon pass through Serbia. For more on this crisis, see my April 27 interview with Mark Ohanian, director of programs for International Orthodox Christian Charities.
Could Romania do a better job on human trafficking? Absolutely. The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, in its 2015 report on trafficking in Romania, says the country “demonstrated weak efforts to protect trafficking victims, as the number of victims identified far exceeded services available to assist them. The government relied on NGOs to identify and assist victims, but did not provide any financial support due to a legal preclusion of direct funding for NGOs.” You can read the entire summary at the link. I would only add that trafficking problems are not unique to the Romanians. The State Department, for example, said the Netherlands “fully compliles with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” but also described a grave problem in “sex trafficking and forced labor in shipping, offshore oil exploration, agriculture, horticulture, catering, food processing, cleaning, and forced criminal activity.”
In sum, the Acton Institute regrets the errors in the Hilton post and apologizes for any offense given to Romania or Romanians on this blog.