The United Kingdom has become one of the main and most profitable markets for Romanian criminal gangs involved in sex trafficking.

The latest development — partly resulting from pandemic-driven poverty — involves the growing presence in the British sex market of underage Romanian girls sold by their own families to pedophilia-linked crime networks.

The Shocking Sex Business of Romanian Gangs

The ultimate and terrific evolution of the Romanian sex mafia has been matter of a deep and well-documented investigation by the British tabloid the Sun. The inquiry, based on the collection of police data, witnesses and knowledge provided by Romanian mafia expert Radu Nicolae, comes to a shocking conclusion: more and more Romanian families are selling their own daughters — mostly teenagers — to UK-based sex traffickers working along with pedophiles.

According to Nicolae, Romanian recruiters tend to “target young women, as young as possible, and primarily minors” and it is not unusual that their parents are behind the deals that are made. The trend is mainly due to three circumstances: Romania’s status as Europe’s sex trafficking powerhouse, the pandemic-driven poverty, and the ever-growing expansion of organized pedophile rings in the UK – the number of known pedophiles in the UK has nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020, increasing from 180,000 to 350,000.

EU Report: Children Smuggled Out of Romania is Up Tenfold Since 2016

The European Commission uncovered that the “children smuggled out of the country [Romania]” increased tenfold since 2016, a tendency which is probably linked to the developments taking place in the UK. The business is highly profitable: depending on the age of the sex slave, traffickers can pay the families up to 3,000 euros per girl. The age can be very low: according to law professor Silvia Tabusca there have been documented cases of “girls as young as nine-years-old” smuggled and obliged “to sell their bodies” for money.

The consent of the parents is mandatory because of its strategic relevance: in this way, underage girls can travel abroad as if they were to go on a trip and the horrific reality is kept hidden from the authorities – what occurs in the UK is kept a secret among families, recruiters, children and clients.

When the object of sex trafficking is a teenager, the exploitation can be even more profitable in the light of the possibility to make her work in underground brothels. Estimates suggest that “with each prostitute making between £500 and £700 a day from servicing multiple clients, their pimps can rake in £12,500 a month – or £135,000 a year – from a single girl.”

The most recent data extracted from police operations across the UK, particularly in England, speaks loudly: “86% of women in some British brothels are from Romania.” A large portion of of these women and teenagers are of Romanian ethnicity, but traffickers don’t disdain to also trade girls of Roma origin.

According to the charity Justice and Care, “the vast majority of women we find in brothels linked to organized crime and sexual exploitation are Romanian.” Most of the sex slaves are sent to London, which the Sun defines “the capital of the problem” due to the fact that 49.5% of “human trafficking victims are rescued from there.”

Do Institutions and Governments Know About This Crisis?

So many women and children are being smuggled on a yearly basis and so much money is being raised by the traffickers, that “[Romanian] experts say […] that the trafficking gangs have corrupted government officials.” It would be impossible otherwise to understand why such billion-dollar transnational crime network is still on and is increasing in size. In relation to this not-so-remote claim, it is worth mentioning that recently the US Embassy in Bucharest downgraded the country from level 1 to level 2 with regard to its fight against sex trafficking and victim protection. The downgrading was motivated by the alleged collusion between authorities and crime rings.

The outbreak of the pandemic only contributed to make the things worse. Indeed, traffickers do know that Romania is being hit by a new wave of poverty, especially in the rural areas, and they are now increasing the pressures over vulnerable people and dysfunctional families.

Romania: Europe’s Sex Trade Hub

Romania ranks 11th in the world in prostitutes per capita: 80 per 10,000 inhabitants, that is about 158,000. According to a 2010 report by the Amsterdam-based Tampep, 50% of all street prostitutes in Romania are of Roma origin.

According to a 2013 report by the European Commission, Romania and Bulgaria together provided 61% of all the women sex trafficked annually within the European Union, with the former in first position. Indeed, four out of five victims were Romanians. Five years later, in 2018, the EU Commission published a new report on the matter, noting that Romania has been indisputably leading the ranking since 2010, and is the origin of 44% of all sex trafficking-related prosecutions at EU level.

The most recent study on the topic, conducted jointly by Europol and Eurojust and published in 2019, concluded that 7 out of 10 of Europe’s prostitutes are from Romania. Romanian prostitutes represent the first nationality in most Western European countries, from Germany to Spain.

In Germany, according to the most recent and official data, coming directly from the legally-operating sex houses, as of 2018 about 32,800 women worked in the prostitution industry, 26,800 of them were foreigners and 11,400 were Romanians. It means that Romanians represent 35% of all the sex workers active in Germany.

In Spain, according to a report by the Ministry of the Interior, Romanian women are believed to be 35% to 50% of all the prostitutes working in the country and most of them are proven victims of violent abuses and tortures, kidnapped by criminal gangs in their home cities.

Finally in Italy, in accordance with the numbers provided by the Association Giovanni XXIII, there are between 100,000 and 120,000 street prostitutes. Romania is the second most represented nationality (22%) after Nigeria (36%). What is truly shocking is that of the alleged 20,000-30,000 Italian-based Romanian prostitutes, the overwhelming majority is made up of minors: 15,000.