“Close This Market”
Report on tackling the sexual exploitation of Romanian women by men in the UK
On 26 October 2020, UK Feminista convened an online summit for policy makers, officials and frontline organisations from Romania and the UK to identify what measures are needed to stop the sexual exploitation of Romanian women by UK sex buyers.
Discussions were chaired by Dame Diana Johnson MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Ash Denham MSP, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Community Safety.
“Close this market” is a report of the contributions made by participants during the summit.
Organised sexual exploitation is widespread across the UK, with organised crime groups advertising victims on pimping websites and moving them around networks of residential properties and hotel rooms to be abused by men who pay for sex. Evidence suggests that it is predominately non-UK national women who are the victims of organised sexual exploitation, and a significant proportion of them are from Romania.
- Between 1st January 2016 and 31st December 2017, Leicestershire police visited 156 brothels, encountering 421 women. 86% of the women in the brothels were Romanian.
- Northumbria Police visited 81 brothels between March 2016 and April 2018, and of the 259 women they encountered in the brothels, 75% were from Romania.
- Research by the Police Foundation identified 65 brothels operating in Bristol over a two-year period. 83% of the women selling sex in the brothels were non-British nationals, and the most frequently recorded nationality was Romanian (43% of women).
“They need to know that they are wanted, they are loved, and that they are appreciated. And everybody as a human being is looking for this – to be appreciated and to be wanted. …Traffickers are looking on this personal vulnerability.”
– Corina Panaite, Social Worker at ADPARE
Action needed by the UK
The view from frontline agencies
The first session of the online summit brought together frontline agencies supporting and advocating for victims of sexual exploitation. The speakers were:
- Laura Albu, President of the Romanian Women’s Lobby
- Laetitia Gotte, President of Asociatia FREE
- Ioana Sandescu Bauer, Director of eLiberare
- Cristina Huddleston, Director of European Operations at Justice and Care
- Corina Panaite, Social Worker at ADPARE
Frontline organisations described the factors that can make Romanian women and girls vulnerable to traffickers. Factors included childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, economic difficulties, addiction and a lack of support networks. Women are often recruited into sexual exploitation by partners who coerce and groom them.
“Like any market we can reduce the offer by reducing the demand. I believe the UK can take a position and make this shameful market less profitable.”
– Laetitia Gotte, President of Asociatia FREE
The message for the UK Government from frontline agencies was clear. The UK must take action to prevent sexual exploitation. This requires tackling demand from sex buyers. Organisations also highlighted the importance of collaboration between UK and Romanian agencies to prevent sexual exploitation and ensure victims receive the support they need.
The view from prevention and law enforcement agencies
The second session of the online summit brought together prevention and law enforcement agencies. The speakers were:
- Monaliza Cîrstea, National Agency for Equal Opportunities between Women and Men
- Detective Sergeant Stuart Peall, Lancashire Constabulary
- Chief Superintendent Madalina Vlangar, Police & Home Affairs Attaché, Romanian Embassy in London
- Marius Burcea, Head of the Inter-institutional Cooperation and National Prevention Project, National Agency against Trafficking in Persons
- Andrew Noble LVO, British Ambassador to Romania
It was highlighted that sexual exploitation is a gendered crime; the vast majority of victims are female. Speakers conveyed that there has been successful collaboration between Romania and the UK on tackling organised sexual exploitation in the past.
Detective Sergeant Stuart Peall explained that sexual exploitation victims face multiple barriers to disclosing their experience to police, which has informed Lancashire Constabulary’s successful evidence-led prosecutions in tackling third-party exploiters. DS Peall emphasised that there is a need to tackle demand from sex buyers.
Marius Burcea described the work of the prevention unit at Romania’s National Agency against Trafficking in Persons. The agency focuses on reducing people’s vulnerability to trafficking and discouraging the demand that facilitates the trafficking in human beings. A recent campaign promoted the message: ‘Don’t pay for sex. The demand for sexual services increases the number of trafficking victims.’
“It is not enough to know who the victim is to save her, and who the trafficker is to punish him. It’s important to know who the final beneficiary is – the one for whom the victim is recruited and transported, the one who guarantees the deception, fraud, violence and abuse – because the client is the one who pays for all of this.”
– Marius Burcea, Head of the Inter-institutional Cooperation and National Prevention Project, Romanian National Agency against Trafficking in Persons