Here we are in May in a supposed drought, the weather is cold, dull and depressing and we are counting down the months, weeks and days until that holiday abroad. We booked it twelve months ago and have since spent countless hours on Google, looking for reviews of the resort we paid so much to visit. Mr and Mrs Smith have just got back after a wonderful week in the sun. The alcohol was cheap, the food was great but ‘watch out for those gypsy beggars’. Dave and co have had an insane fortnight partying hard. The best clubs in the world, sun, sea, sand and a lot of shagging but guys, ‘beware of the gypsy hookers’.
Take, for instance, the Sunny Beach resort in Bulgaria. A quick Google search provided me with the following reviews:
“…those gipsies are to be found on the central alley of Sunny Beach…they run to you offering you sex, and by the time you realize it, your wallet is gone”
“The cheapest prostitutes are on the road to Sunny beach (mostly young gypsies girls)”
Indeed, 70 per cent of Bulgaria’s prostitutes are reportedly Roma, which is hardly surprising giving that 84 per cent of Bulgaria’s Roma population live in poverty. Yet to me, a Romany boy brought up in the UK, I do find it shocking. You would be hard pressed to find a British Romany prostitute, as sex before marriage and extramarital sex are so deeply frowned upon, however while Britain’s Romany population are the victims of social exclusion, their situation in no way mirrors the distressing situation of the Roma across Europe.
Driving through Bulgaria last Christmas, it saddened me to see Roma girls lining the side of the motorway waiting for clients. To me it is a sad reflection of the deep and historic hatred for the Romani people, which has ultimately triggered the extreme poverty and exclusion which leads to prostitution. Yet, when we look at reviews for ‘Sunny Beach’, or indeed any other resort across Europe, does anyone stop to think why these ‘gypsy hookers’ are ‘harassing’ tourists?
The majority of these girls will have been forced into prostitution. In Bulgaria, they are more than likely under the control of criminal gangs composed largely of ethnic Bulgarians, rather than Roma men. Not only are Roma girls subjected to forced prostitution within Bulgaria itself, but are often trafficked to countries such as the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands. Indeed, the trafficking of Roma woman is an international problem, with girls being lured from deprived areas with the promise of employment or marriage abroad, only to be forced into prostitution upon their arrival.
The sexual exploitation of Roma woman goes greatly unreported, and the plight of these young women appears to go unnoticed, but is this because these women are Roma or because they are prostitutes? I argue that these women suffer not only from the stigma of being prostitutes, but of being Roma as well. Instead of being outraged at those who traffic them, people show disgust at the ‘dirty gypsies’ - an ethnic group who are being persecuted and abused. If we take a look at the video ‘Bulgarian gipsy hookers hunting down victims’, there are very little if any comments about the trafficking of Roma woman, but many showing their repulsion:
“i think they are even worser then black ppl. Atleast black ppl do something for the world. What did a gipsy EVER did for the world”
“You can smell their filthy disgusting cunts just walking by.. I wouldnt fuck them if you paid me.”
“Those fuckin foreigners should go to live to Stolipinovo or gypsis ghettos. FUCK GYPSIES!!FUCK "HUMAN RIGHTS" ORGANISATIONS!!”
Still, despite the lack of compassion for these victims of sexual exploitation, there is something that goes even more unreported – the prostitution of Roma males. In a study of Romanian and Bulgarian male prostitutes working in Germany, it was reported that Romani males were over represented. Indeed, the 2012 documentary ‘Die Jungs vom Bahnhof Zoo’, features three heterosexual Roma men working as prostitutes in Berlin, in order to provide for their families in Romania. What is more, there have been cases of underage Roma boys being forced into prostitution.
Sadly, there has been very little research into the sexual exploitation of Roma men, thus what we do know is likely only to be the tip of the iceberg. This reflects a worrying yet widespread tendency for society to overlook and disregard the sexual abuse of men. When we talk about human trafficking, sexual exploitation and rape, it seems that attention is focused almost exclusively on women. Patriarchal culture has appeared to make us almost unwilling to see men as ‘victims’, and only as perpetrators. The consequences of such attitudes are hugely damaging, with the majority of sexual assaults against men going unreported.
Out of 135 organisations for survivor s of sexual abuse and rape in the UK, just 7 provide services specifically for men. Duncan Craig, founder and Service Director for Survivors Manchester, and a survivor himself, said:
“The sexual exploitation and abuse of boys and men is so often ignored, it’s like society doesn’t want to accept that it happens. When we have a government that focuses on the ‘Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) agenda, it negates the harm caused to boys and men which silences the issue even more”
“Survivors Manchester is committed to breaking the silence of the sexual abuse and rape of boys and men. By providing a safe space, we work to help males be empowered to work through the legacy issues and begin making positive and healthy choices based on the present and not the past”
“Since we started in 2009, we have struggled to secure funding from local and central government. The sexual exploitation and rape of males is an issue that not many people want to be associated with, which makes fundraising increasingly difficult too. We’ve even been accused of trying to take money away from women’s services!”
The lack of support, for male survivors of sexual abuse and rape, in a so called equal and pioneering British society, brings very little promise for the Roma men enduring sexual exploitation across Europe. The portrayal of Romany men in the media has been somewhat unfavourable. We are portrayed as misogynists, fighters, criminals, con men, slave masters and pimps. While Romany woman have their gender on their side, Romany men have to contend with chauvinist stereotypes which do very little to highlight the plight of those who are trafficked and exploited.
The exploitation of any group of society is unethical, yet it seems unjust that the Roma, who are already the most deprived ethnic minority in Europe, are being abused in such inconceivable ways. While there are organisations campaigning for the rights of exploited Roma woman and children, I fear the exploitation of Roma males, and indeed all males, will remain hidden and unchallenged. We are fortunate that, in the UK, there are services, such as Survivors Manchester, who are dedicating their time to helping men who have survived sexual abuse. My only hope is that these services can be amplified, both nationally and internationally and that all survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation, whether male, female, Roma or non Roma, can have equal access, and equal chances of regaining control of their lives.
Christos Tsaprounis is running the Bupa Great Manchester Run for Survivors Manchester. Every donation, whether a penny or a pound, can change the life of a male survivor. Please help Survivors Manchester keep their vital services running and donate today! Thank you.