Amid global headlines surrounding the arrest of American-British former professional kickboxer and social media influencer Andrew Tate on charges of human trafficking, an anti-sexual exploitation group says Tate is accused of employing a tactic commonly used by sex traffickers.
Tate, 36, was arrested on Dec. 29 alongside his brother, Tristian, and two Romanian women, according to a statement last month by Romania’s Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT).
The influencer and his associates were arrested on allegations of human trafficking, rape and committing the crimes of constituting an organized criminal group. Six victims were identified. DIICOT stated that at least one of the six victims was raped in March 2022.
While Tate and the others were initially held in pre-trial detention for 24 hours, a Romanian court extended the detainment to 30 days at the prosecutors' request.
Last Wednesday, prosecutors seized 11 cars belonging to the Tate brothers, investigating whether those cars were purchased with money obtained through human trafficking.
Investigators claim that the Tate brothers and two Romanian women formed a criminal group to traffick individuals in Romania and other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“Victims were recruited by British citizens by misrepresenting their intention to enter into a marriage/cohabitation relationship and the existence of genuine feelings of love (the loverboy method),” the English translation of a statement released by Romanian authorities alleges.
“They were later transported and housed in buildings in Ilfov county where, by exercising acts of physical violence and mental coercion (through intimidation, constant surveillance, control and invoking alleged debts), they were sexually exploited by group members by forcing them to perform demonstrations pornographic for the purpose of producing and disseminating through social media platforms material having such a character and by submitting to the execution of a forced labor.”
Dani Pinter, senior legal counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), asserted that the “loverboy method,” also known as the “Romeo method,” is one of the most common ways traffickers lure victims into their schemes.
Pinter said in an interview with The Christian Post that traffickers identify vulnerable victims who may have a history of abuse or might have just come out of a bad relationship. The trafficker then pretends to be in love with the victim, building their targets up emotionally and appearing to be a source of comfort.
“And so they do this love bombing technique where they shower this person with praise, affection, build them up, make them feel so good, so special, and they create sort of this bond,” she told CP. “And then, a lot of times, the trafficker will just keep that going and guilt trip and use other forms of coercion and not get violent.”
Pinter said it’s common for traffickers to ensure their victims become dependent upon them, beginning a cycle of violence while also continuing to manipulate the victim with more love bombing.
While the relationship is “dysfunctional,” Pinter said it can be difficult for victims to break away from the situation.
The victim either fears a violent retaliation from their trafficker or hesitates to leave due to the "trauma bond" their trafficker formed with them.
Pinter says the situation shows that most sex trafficking cases do not involve a random stranger snatching a random woman. Instead, victims typically have a personal connection with their trafficker.
“They're introduced by someone they trust or an extended family member or something. So that's one way that the person has their guard down,” she told CP. “Or it’s a celebrity, a really charismatic person, which Tate was.”
“I think that’s what Tate used. He’s a celebrity; he’s out in the open. Everyone knows who he is; he’s famous,” Pinter continued, speculating on how Tate might have appeared to the victims. “And it's also super exciting and intriguing, gets the person to let their guard down, and then he showered them with affection. So that’s hard to turn away from, and that’s super common.”
“The truth is that sex trafficking is whenever someone is sexually exploited for something in exchange,” she asserted. “Sometimes that’s money, obviously. Sometimes it’s favors or other things, and that can happen from the home.”
The anti-sexual exploitation advocate cited the example of predators targeting children by befriending them online, bombarding them with affection before persuading them to send a sexually explicit photo of themselves. The predator may then use the image to blackmail the child and manipulate them into performing more sexual acts online.
Pinter noted that the risk of sex trafficking increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with income losses due to quarantine restrictions increasing some individuals’ vulnerability to trafficking. The measures taken to slow the spread of the virus also reduced resources for victims.
“In many ways, trafficking shifted in a way that I don’t think will be back, which is that many traffickers shifted to the online space,” she said. “They found that it works, and it’s easy to be anonymous, and they have access to far more victims that way.”
“It's unfortunate, but if the trafficker abuses someone physically or sells that person physically, that's a one-time transaction,” Pinter continued. “Whereas if they're recorded, they can monetize that assault indefinitely and repeatedly.”
According to the International Labor Organization, of the 27.6 million people subjected to false labor in 2021, 6.3 million were involved in commercial sexual exploitation. Twelve percent of all those forced labor victims were children, and more than half were involved in commercial sexual exploitation.
A spokesperson for Romania’s Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism told Insider Wednesday that authorities seized the 11 luxury cars from Tate and his brother to "sustain the cost of the investigation” and would likely be used as collateral to fund payment awards for the alleged victims.
Some of the seized vehicles included a Rolls-Royce Wraith and an Aston Martin Vanquish S Ultimate, according to Insider.
Eugen Vidineac, a lawyer representing the Tate brothers, told the Romanian news outlet Gandul that the defense had not been allowed to study the prosecution’s evidence. He added that several electronic devices were seized by authorities last April for searches.
“I will point this out from the beginning, that even up to the present moment, the criminal investigation file has not been made available to us to ensure the effective defense of our clients,” Vidineac was quoted as saying by The Independent.
“In this sense, I would like to point out, at least from this point of view, I am also somehow amazed, there is not a single piece of evidence apart from the victim’s statement that leads to the idea that a crime of rape was committed.”
Vidineac believes “there is no evidence.”
“I’m talking about evidence leading, by itself or directly, to the formation of an opinion of reasonable suspicion regarding the commission of offenses provided for and punishable by criminal law,” he said.