If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest checking out Benjamin Skinner’s book A Crime So Monstrous – Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery. It’s an amazing work of journalism, brutal and intense in the reality of its subject. You can buy the book from Amazon or read a really good article about it here.
At one point in the book, Skinner describes underground brothels in Bucharest, where women are raped dozens of times every day. One pimp even offers to sell him one of his prostitutes, a girl with Down Syndrome, for the price of a used car. It’s sick and disturbing, but, honestly, when I read the book, what Skinner saw in Romania paled in comparison to the kind of slavery he saw in India, Africa, Haiti, and elsewhere, so it didn’t shock me like it should have.
One of the things that first got us interested in coming to Bucharest was to work against human trafficking. I saw myself as almost a Machine Gun Preacher type who’d come in and rescue all the trafficked women, lock up the pimps, and save Romania and the world from the evils of modern-day slavery. Now, as we’ve spent a year praying and asking God why He wants us here, I think I have a clearer picture that, ultimately, the thing that will end human trafficking is not one more awareness campaign or one more interdenominational nonprofit organization but the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When women get born-again, they won’t be duped into prostitution and sex slavery. When men get born-again, they won’t run underground brothels and massage parlors, and they won’t seek out their services. Educating people about human trafficking is a real necessity, but it will never end until the Gospel changes lives, it will only change shape and become some new form of evil.
The past few days, we’ve come face-to-face with some mild forms of modern-day slavery going on in Bucharest. If you can call any form of slavery mild. Slavery is slavery, however it’s packaged.
Pimps in Bucharest will keep men, women, and children as slaves, forcing them to hit the streets begging, washing car windows, or selling their bodies for sex. When the day is over, the slaves return to their pimps and give them what they earned that day. Pimps use violence, fear, manipulation, and threats to keep people under their control. The government has recommended nobody give anything to beggars or window-washers, because it all just goes into the hands of the pimps, not to the poor and orphaned that you think you’re helping. It’s a screwed up, messed up, perverted system, and it makes me sick to think people can be so cruel to other human beings.
The other day, we heard about an older woman who was raised in an orphanage here. There were so many girls and so little order that the whole place devolved into a Lord of the Flies kind of scenario – violence was common-place, alliances were made for protection, and gangs sprouted up in a bizarre ad hoc system of martial law. In the absence of Jesus, darkness is very dark.
Every time we’re in a car, people try to wash our windows, and we’re reminded again of the darkness of the human heart without God and the need for the transforming power of the Gospel.
Why am I sharing all this? Not to scare you or make you stay away from Romania, because Bucharest (and this entire nation) are really very safe and very beautiful. Bucharest has been called “The Little Paris” and “Europe’s Best-Kept Secret”. We love it here. The people are passionate and loving, the weather is amazing (so far), the food is fantastic, and it’s a little crazy at times but really fun.
Before coming here, we expected to find some evidence of human trafficking, but a lot of what we’d been reading and hearing from people was that the EU had helped Romania take care of things, so it was no longer an issue. I’m sure things are better than they were, but the reality is that there is still stuff going on that would make your stomach turn. Some friends we’ve met here, Ryan and Andrea Crozier, just came back from an anti-human-trafficking convention in Italy, where they met with a handful of street prostitutes, the overwhelming majority of whom came from Romania. You can read about it here. Were they trafficked illegally, or did they just choose a lifestyle of prostitution? I don’t know, but if 9 out of 10 prostitutes in Italy are Romanian, that’s a problem. Not that it wouldn’t be a problem if they were all Italian.
We’ve met some cool people here who are trying to end human trafficking. Some of them are raising awareness and gathering data, others are housing former trafficked women and helping them get back into regular life, others are speaking at schools and trying to bring all the different anti-human-trafficking organizations in Romania together… Andreea Gavrila, who gave us a ride to church at Missio Dei today, just got done speaking at a Christian school, where some of the girls came up to her afterwards sharing how they had friends who had been trafficked into prostitution. One of the plans she’s working on is to get a group of young Christian women to befriend the prostitutes, show them the love of Jesus, and help them escape that lifestyle.
Please pray for Andreea, Ryan and Andrea Crozier, and everyone else in Romania who is working to end human trafficking, prostitution, and all forms of slavery in this nation. Pray that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would go forth and do what it does best, bring transformation and change.
Romania is largely a “post-Christian” nation. Most people call themselves Romanian Orthodox in terms of religious affiliation, but that usually means little more than they were baptized in a church building as an infant, they attend weddings in a church building, and their funeral will be conducted by a Romanian Orthodox priest one day.
Under Communist oppression, the church prospered, with men of God like Richard Wurmbrand refusing to surrender to a Godless regime.
Now, in the freedom of democracy and a free market economy, God isn’t outlawed but ignored – not crushed beneath the feet of an iron dictatorship but trampled by the suede shoes of a generation of self-interested Black Friday pleasure-seekers.
That’s about as poetic as I’ll get here, so relish that line for a moment everyone. Aaaah, OK, now let’s move on.
When God is pushed out of society, morality follows suite. In Bucharest, a city of 35 colleges and universities, there is a growing trend toward student prostitution, whether it be in the form of massage parlours, escort services, or web cam girls. Many of these students (men and women) make good money. Some work out of their homes, others gather in collectives, and still others work as employees of video studios or modern-day pimps.
I’ve been reading some articles and interviews with the guys and girls involved with the business, and while there are some who cry “human trafficking” and “sex slavery,” and it may be true that there are elements of both of those, what has alarmed me the most is that the majority of participants (mostly women), view their business as a decent way to make an income. Prostitution and web cam work in Romania can net anywhere between $400 to $4,000 a month depending on how often you want to work and what you’re willing to do. Prostitution, according to some studies, is by far the best paying job available to women in Romania.
Due to the flexible schedule and decent pay, students are flocking to it. If there is no God beyond money, and your body is just a bunch of tissue and bone and blood, and sex is just something that feels good like cracking your back or letting out a good sneeze, then why not make a decent salary selling yourself?
I know stuff like this goes on all over the world, and the situation is actually (from what I’ve been reading) much better in Romania than some other places, but it breaks my heart that people can degrade themselves so much that they’re willing to sell their bodies for the pleasure of some random guy who really only cares about himself.
We bear the image of God. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We were created for His pleasure, not for our own selfish pursuit of money or for some random guy who’s willing to pay for sex.