“I want him to pay for everything I’ve suffered,” said a short, frail 24-year-old Romanian who was forced into prostitution by a man who duped her.
The man with whom she fell in love trafficked her in Romania and then to Austria before she managed to escape.
“Once he hit me with a chair and almost killed me,” another 31-year-old victim said, adding that the experience pushed her “to the brink of suicide.”
Both women are housed in a shelter for trafficking victims in northeastern Romania and are awaiting the start of proceedings against the men who passed them around.
Yet their wait might be in vain, given the impunity that many perpetrators seem to enjoy in Romania.
On a national level, the number of alleged traffickers sent to court dropped from 400 in 2018 to 347 last year.
Agence France-Presse gained access to hundreds of pages of judicial documents and interviewed victims, prosecutors and lawyers in different regions.
The drawbacks were apparent even in the high-profile “Tandarei” case, which spanned the UK and Romania.
In one of the largest child trafficking rings uncovered in Europe, more than 100 people were convicted in the UK over an operation in which dozens of minors were forced to beg and steal.
However, in Romania all those charged were last year acquitted after an almost decade-long trial.
The Romanian judges complained about the investigation led by the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT), saying a lot of it was “accusations based on hearsay,” while leads on alleged bribes paid to local police were not followed up.
In a report on trafficking in Romania, the US Department of State said that “widespread complicity and the failure to incriminate officials hampered effective law enforcement.”
“Trafficking networks have vast sums of money, which often allows them to buy impunity,” said Silvia Tabusca, director of the Romanian-American University’s Center for Human Rights and Migration.
DIICOT prosecutors say that in some cases “officials from banks or town halls as well as police officers have offered protection” to trafficking rings.
Tabusca said that there are sometimes also “suspicions of corruption” within the judicial system.
Tabusca said that the upshot of the Tandarei acquittals is that “the influence of the suspects within the local community has increased.”
“They’re are now perceived as untouchable,” she said.
Tabusca said that victims’ testimony is often changed or retracted during a trial.
“Physical or emotional abuse is normal for many of these children, who find it hard to realize that beyond the walls of their home there is another world where their rights are respected,” said Mariana Neacsu, a psychologist at the child protection agency in Ialomita County.
In 2017, police in Romania and France arrested several dozen suspects believed to have exploited minors who were forced to steal on the Parisian subway.
In France, 20 members of the ring were jailed, but in Romania the case is still before the courts.
More than 100 files had been opened by Romanian investigators into thefts committed by children of nine suspects in the ring, the prosecution indictment showed.
However, proceedings only began when French authorities asked for a joint investigation.
Spania and her husband, Gheorghe, are two of the nine suspects facing trial in the case in the north-eastern city of Iasi.
The indictment includes the transcript of a telephone call intercepted by French police in which a friend warns Spania that her daughters, aged 12 and 14, had been arrested in Paris.
“I will not go look for them, let them break their necks,” Spania was recorded as saying.
The couple deny the charges and their lawyer Ciprian Mitoseriu said that “there is reason to believe that the children stole on their own.”
Prosecutors have interviewed 20 minors suspected of being trafficked by their parents, but none of them were prepared to testify.
For Tabusca, another failure of Romanian investigators is that they don’t “follow the money and find the real beneficiary.”
“The networks quickly regenerate, even if traffickers are convicted,” she said.
LIFE GOES ON: After a strict lockdown that left millions on the brink of starvation, Indians embrace work to avoid starvation and get ready for several major festivals India is on course to top the world in COVID-19 cases, but from Maharashtra’s whirring factories to Kolkata’s thronging markets, people are back at work — and eager to forget the pandemic for festival season. After a strict lockdown in March that left millions on the brink of starvation, the government and people of the world’s second-most populous country decided life must go on. Sonali Dange, for instance, has two young daughters and an elderly mother-in-law to look after. She was hospitalized this year in excruciating pain after catching the novel coronavirus. However, after the lockdown exhausted the family’s savings, the 29-year-old had
A COVID-19 outbreak among hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian fishers flown to New Zealand to bolster its struggling deep-sea fishing industry has prompted that country’s largest daily increase in infections in months, authorities said yesterday. More than 230 fishers were flown in from Moscow last week, with 18 of the crew members then testing positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine, New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. The Pacific nation has almost eliminated local transmission of the virus, but regularly records small numbers of new cases in returned travelers. The fishing cluster pushed the daily tally of new infections to 25,
From monitoring vital signs to filtering filthy air and even translating speech into other languages, the COVID-19-fueled boom in mask-wearing has spawned an unusual range of high-tech face coverings. As masks become the norm worldwide, tech companies and researchers are rolling out weird and wonderful models to guard against infection and cash in on a growing trend. One of the wackiest comes from Japan, where start-up Donut Robotics has created a face covering that helps users adhere to social distancing and also acts as a translator. The “C-Face” mask works by transmitting a wearer’s speech to a smartphone via an app, and allows
JAPAN Deer-edible bags invented The deer that roam Nara no longer face discomfort — or far worse — after local firms developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs. Last year, several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers. Firms collaborated to develop bags that pass safely through the animals’ complex digestive system. The bags are made with recycled pulp from milk cartons and rice bran, one of the main ingredients of the shika senbei savory