Sold people – Roma in prostitution

On the new book by Manfred Paulus

by Eliane Perret

Human trafficking, sex slaves, prostitution – these are topics that we would perhaps rather know nothing about. We might also fabricate the excuse that these topics are not important in our countries. In his new book “Sold People. Roma in Prostitution”, Manfred Paulus counters these misconceptions with reality. Factually accurate, carefully researched and based on a deeply humane attitude towards the equality of all people, he states what he has learned in decades of national and international investigative work in the field of sexual offences and red-light crime as well as preventive work in Eastern and Southern Europe. This book focuses specifically on the fate of the twelve million Roma who were counted by the Council of Europe in Eastern and Southern Europe in 2011. Today, Roma are an expensive and much sought-after ‘commodity’ in the sex trade and human trafficking in our countries. Manfred Paulus gives them an otherwise barely heard voice against the background of his many years of work in this field.

Self-determined and voluntary –
a denial of reality

Any attentive reader will quickly realise this: prostitution cannot be whitewashed. It is not a ‘service’ or a ‘profession’ like any other, for which we just need to finally create the right working conditions. This will not change with new terminology such as sex work, sex trade, erotic hostesses, etc. Because it is still about violence, blackmail, dependency and contempt for humanity, the associated misery and a business that has now grown into a billion-dollar market. In reality, the ‘women prostituting themselves voluntarily and self-determinedly’ are being mercilessly exploited and robbed of their dignity. These empty phrases often come from circles that like to present themselves as ‘open’ and ‘tolerant’ and who think they can break a long overdue taboo with so-called more liberal legislation. Such wishful arguments – now skilfully fed into the social debate – are an essential part of the problem. They deny reality and do nothing to protect the victims of the sex market. On the contrary, they roll out the red carpet for organised crime, allowing it to run its business with this ‘human commodity’, unhindered by legal and social obstacles. Should a young woman actually voluntarily turn to such an activity (possibly in high-class brothels and escort services), seduced by the above propaganda phrases, in search of supposedly quick money, the question of undesirable developments in her mental balance would certainly be permissible.

Ignorance and prejudice

The fate of Roma, Romnija (female Roma) and Roma children is linked to prejudices against this group of people that have been passed down for centuries. ‘Lazing around, fiddling on their violins and stealing chickens or copper’ – these are common clichés used to generate mistrust, rejection, contempt or even hatred. It is a sentiment that is directed at these people and pushes them to the margins of the majority societies. Today, many Roma live in slums on the outskirts of villages and towns. Isolated from a larger environment, they lead a life characterised by poverty and misery even if in the protection of their family, tribe or clan. According to Manfred Paulus, they feel committed to this social milieu for the rest of their lives. Their close family ties have ensured the survival of the Roma for centuries and are still effective today and often guide their actions. Their sense of duty towards their family environment can lead to them, fuelled by great hardship and misery, becoming victims of criminal exploiters, who may well come from family structures. Manfred Paulus therefore calls for a genuine and honest clarification of the causes of these abuses; only then can the right consequences be drawn as to how the exploitation of this group of people, who have been disadvantaged for centuries, can be countered with effective measures.

The ugly face of antiziganism

In an introductory chapter, Manfred Paulus looks at the history of antigypsyism, which dates back to the Middle Ages. This long history is the breeding ground for today’s discriminatory structures, which are held on to by the majority society, which is “unwilling or unable to finally throw them on the rubbish heap of history” (p. 10). Of course, as with all ethnic groups and societies, there are cases that seem to confirm the discriminatory clichés, writes Manfred Paulus. But then the reasons for alleged and actual misbehaviour must also be revealed. “This antigypsyist attitude is particularly evident in the many Romnija who are unscrupulously used or exploited in German brothels, as German street prostitutes or, for ten or even five euros, in dirty ‘sex drive-ins’ provided for this purpose. The same applies to their children, of whom hundreds or thousands in Berlin alone do not go to school – but some of whom are forced to sell themselves on the gay or ‘baby prostitution’ streets.” (p. 13) A fact that, incidentally, applies not only to Germany, but also to Austria and Switzerland. Without education and training, they have no chance and occupy a marginalised position in our economic life. In addition, their original sources of income as excellent horse traders, coppersmiths, kettle makers and tinkers are hardly in demand any more, and handmade crockery and carpets are now produced in low-cost countries and sold by trading houses. Committing themselves to a permanent job over a long period of time is also said to be at variance with their mentality, their values and their centuries-old tradition of family and clan cohesion, which further supports the prejudice of their being work-shy.
  In all this, people forget or overlook the many Roma who, despite all ethnic obstacles, complete a university degree or achieve remarkable things in a wide variety of professions. They have long since settled down, integrated into the majority society and are doing qualified work. They are often not recognised as Roma because the disadvantages associated with belonging to a discriminated ethnic group are also a reason why many of the twelve million Roma counted by the Council of Europe in Eastern and Southern Europe in 2011 conceal their origins.
  The persecution of the Roma reached its sad climax with the genocide during the National Socialist era. A total of 500,000 Sinti or Roma are believed to have been killed in concentration camps, and this figure does not even include the Roma, Romnija and Roma children who were tracked down and shot by the SS and other murder squads, as well as the rounded-up contingents of Roma who were placed in front of dug-out pits and shot.

Slave trade in the 21st century

In the following chapters, the author takes us to Eastern European countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where the Roma live on the margins of society – not far from tourist towns and rich shopping streets. Here, the prostitution of Romnija and Roma children without educational or training opportunities can be one of the few ways to alleviate the family’s economic and financial hardship. This forces them onto the ‘market’ of the tourist beaches, or they are trafficked to Western Europe as victims of ‘loverboys’ or with tempting promises of a lucrative job, and forced to sell their bodies on the sex market there. Manfred Paulus knows these procedures and mechanisms in detail and describes how the victims are made dependent, how their dream of a better life as well as their desire or obligation to help their own families escape poverty are deliberately exploited. And this concerns many people, Roma and others, and the number of unreported cases is large. Paulus addresses this trade in the ‘commodity of women and children’ as a business area of organised crime, where thousands of women and children are still being sold to the (Western) European market every year – slave trade in the 21st century. A trade that is now being fuelled by offers on the internet and by open borders – with Germany, Austria and Switzerland as popular destination countries.

Paedocriminality –
the cruel grab for the little ones

Particularly shocking are Paulus’ reports on paedocrime. For example in Ukraine, which had already been a production centre for child pornography even before the war began. It was no coincidence that this centre was based in the Donetsk and Odessa region, where there were many defenceless street children who nobody asked or cared about if they disappeared. Abused and violated in the production of films that might well end in the death of the children. ‘Consumed’ by sick minds, who often travel to these countries as (child) prostitution tourists, act as pimps or commit paedophile crimes against children. The Darknet offers many opportunities. The question arises as to why our society does not resolutely reject such developments.

Laws with loopholes

But it is also about the conditions that make such criminal and inhuman acts possible. In the countries of origin of the sex slaves and children sold, it is always the same processes, favoured by poverty, discrimination, lawlessness and corruption. However, the question of the ‘market’, the sex buyers in our countries, is just as urgent. Legislation in these countries makes trafficking and sexual exploitation of these children and women possible. Manfred Paulus takes an in-depth look at the current legislation in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the European Union. This information is summarised, so that it is easily accessible to every decision-maker in politics and administration. Unfortunately, in Switzerland, Germany and Austria, it is precisely this legal freedom that prevents the crime associated with prostitution from being effectively combated. This shows how much action is needed, and it shows that the determination to solve the problem is still lacking.

The Nordic model

There are certainly models available from countries that have taken a more courageous approach. At the turn of the millennium, the issue of how to deal with prostitution in Europe was mainly discussed on the left of the political spectrum. As early as 1999, Sweden enacted a piece of legislation – initially known as the Swedish Model (now the Nordic model). It was no longer the prostitutes but the sex buyers who were criminalised. This was linked to a broad awareness campaign and to educational measures for the general public, so that prostitution was socially ostracised. And the consequences predicted by the prostitution lobby in the tired argument it so likes to use did not materialise: prostitution was not pushed into hidden areas and prostitutes were not forced into illegality, as shown by a study published by the Swedish government in 2010, which was confirmed by subsequent studies. Human trafficking and sex slavery have declined significantly in countries that have since followed the Nordic Model – Norway and Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, Ireland and Israel. The ‘market’ has lost its appeal in these countries and is also easier to control. It has therefore shifted to countries that still allow criminal activity a great deal of freedom – for example Switzerland, Germany and Austria!

Not everyone is merely an onlooker –
but there are still far too many of them

In his book, Manfred Paulus also refers to the valuable efforts of committed persons or groups in the countries of origin, but also in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, whose projects, for example, give the children and women affected a perspective and protect them from the grasp of human traffickers through shelters, or support returnees after suffering.
  It is disappointing that in Switzerland, prostitution has since 2021 even been completely decriminalised by a federal court ruling. In contrast, the Swiss Crime Prevention Centre (SCP) continues to do very good work. One promising project was the ‘Human trafficking is cruel – so is silence’ campaign of the Fachstelle Frauenhandel und Frauenmigration FIZ, which used TV adverts to draw people’s attention to the problem and highlight the need for action. In June 2022, however, the introduction of the Nordic Model, which had been called for by various organisations as well as the Evangelical People’s Party (EPP), was once again rejected (as in 2020) by 172 votes to 11. That is so hard to grasp! However, the ‘Swiss Prevention of Criminality’ (SKP) office is sticking to its guns. It continues to draw attention to (neighbourhood) crime and implement appropriate prevention measures. On 24 September 2022, several thousand people from various organisations gathered on the Bundesplatz in front of the House of Parliament in Bern and reaffirmed their determination in their fight against sex slavery and human trafficking, darkening the sky with 3,000 black balloons. They were right! What would the yes-men, ideologues and trivialisers say to Rovena, a young woman who managed to escape prostitution and find refuge in the Albanian mountains, when she stands before them with tears in her eyes, but at the same time with courage, pride and despair, and tells them: “I am Rovena and I ask you: Why does something like this exist in your country, why can and may something like this exist in your country?” (p. 78)  •

Manfred Paulus

Manfred Paulus, former Chief Superintendent, was born in 1943 and joined the police force in 1963. For many years, he was head of the sexual offences department at the German citys’ Ulm criminal investigation department. His decades of experience in the field of red-light crime, trafficking in women and children and paedophile crime make him a proven expert in this field. On behalf of the European Commission, he followed the traces of human traffickers to the countries of origin of the trafficked women and children in Eastern Europe. He has taught at various police academies since 2000. Now retired, he uses the opportunity as an internationally recognised expert in the field of human trafficking, (forced) prostitution and organised crime to pass on his expertise as a speaker and author. This also includes prevention projects, especially in Eastern European countries. Manfred Paulus was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2020 for his commitment to combating human trafficking.

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