50.50: Feature

How Andrew Tate exploited Romania’s misogynistic culture

Patriarchal values and weak laws made Romania the ideal place for Tate’s criminal pursuits, say local feminists

WhatsApp Image 2022-12-05 at 3.19.52 PM
Miriam Tepes-Handaric
22 February 2023, 10.58am

Controversial social media influencer and self-professed misogynist Andrew Tate, who is currently in detention in Romania, offered five reasons why he moved to the eastern European country in 2017, in a video now deleted from his YouTube channel. Chief among them: the lack of buy-in to the #MeToo movement, something he says has forced men like himself to curb their sexual activity for fear that women might accuse them of rape.

While the eastern European country has long turned a blind eye to the systematic exploitation of women and has frequently failed to prosecute gender-based violence, this time prosecutors appear determined to draw a line with Andrew, 36, and his brother Tristan, 34.

Arrested in December 2022, the duo are currently in preventive custody in Romania’s capital Bucharest on suspicion of human trafficking and rape (no charges have yet been filed). An appeal against their detention was denied at the start of this month. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Women’s rights advocates told openDemocracy that they are cautiously optimistic that Tate’s six victims (as identified by Romania's anti-organised crime agency DIICOT) will get justice due to the huge international profile of the investigation. But they’re not holding their breath that the case will change a toxic status quo in a country in which rape and sexual assault are frequently ignored.

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We had so many wake-up calls that we ignored. There were tons of red flags

Ionela Băluță

“[The Tate case] confirms what we, the ones working in this field, knew for a long time, that the state is incapable of building a real legislative and institutional framework when it comes to violence against women,” said Ionela Băluță, a University of Bucharest gender studies professor specialising in public policies for gender equality.

Even though Romania has taken legislative steps to combat gender-based violence, including ratifying the Istanbul Convention in 2016, the country’s justice system falls short when it comes to collecting data and reporting crimes, according to GREVIO, the Council of Europe group that monitors implementation of the convention.

Romania’s legislative system may align with the values of the EU, but activists say that implementation is theoretical and doesn’t happen in practice. Most of the time, activists are left to fight for progress, without much help from politicians. Numerous Romanian politicians voice conservative values and perpetuate forms of gender-based violence.

Marius Budăi, the labour and social solidarity minister and a member of the National Socialist Party, is currently accused of harassing several women, including a fellow MP whom he called while drunk at 2am. Asked by a journalist if he saw anything wrong in the minister’s late-night call to his colleague, party chairman Marcel Ciolacu said: “What is the case? I don’t understand.”

Băluță, the gender studies professor, when asked if the Tate case should be a warning sign for Romanians about gender-based violence, said: “We had so many wake-up calls that we ignored. There were tons of red flags.”

Romania came third from last among EU states in reaching gender equality, according to the 2022 Gender Equality Index (only Greece and Hungary scored lower results).

It also had the second-highest number of teenage pregnancies in the EU in 2021 (behind Bulgaria). UNICEF suggested the lack of a national sex education programme was the main cause, but activists also blame the judicial system’s tolerance towards rape. Three-quarters of the rape cases marked as ‘solved’ by the authorities in 2022 were just closed files, according to data posted by the FILIA Centre, a Romanian feminist group. The country has no minimum age of sexual consent.

I think Tate chose to live here because it is a country that tolerates what he planned to do

Irina Sorescu

Romania also continues to be one of the prime countries of origin for victims of human trafficking, says a 2021 report from the Council of Europe, while a 2022 report from the US government describes the Romanian state as lacking the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.

For Irina Sorescu, president of the Partnership for Equal Opportunities between Women and Men, a Romanian NGO, the system that is meant to discourage sex trafficking is prone to errors. Problems start with how trafficking cases are handled, continuing with trials, sentences and release; traffickers can end up returning to their criminal pursuits.

“I think Tate chose to live here because it is a country that tolerates what he planned to do,” said Sorescu. “We know that the most used method [by traffickers to trick victims] is ‘lover boy’, the one that Andrew Tate successfully used.”

The ‘lover boy’ method targets young and economically vulnerable women, who are manipulated and coerced into the sex trade by a partner they are romantically involved with. Romanian authorities cited the method by name when describing allegations against Tate.

Patriarchal values and Tate’s influence

A British-US citizen and former kickboxing champion, Andrew Tate rose to popularity through his TikTok videos, where he promoted ideas of toxic masculinity, misogyny and violence against women.

He faced multiple allegations of sexual abuse in the UK before he moved to Romania, but the Crown Prosecution Service never filed charges against him. Tate has denied breaking the law. “I’m no f***ing rapist,” Tate said, “But I like the idea of being able to do what I want.”

Before his arrest in December, Tate posted numerous videos heralding Romanian patriarchal values. In one video, Tate said that he never saw drunk girls in Romania. He described a supposed interaction with a cab driver, where he asks why young women walk about late at night. “They are Romanian girls,” the driver told him, “a Romanian wouldn’t hurt a Romanian girl.” Tate concludes: “That’s completely gone from the West,” he adds, “Romania has no economic prosperity, but they have morality.”

I would like this [Tate brothers] case to become a pressure point for Romania

Cristina Praz

This is not what Romanian women experience. “His speech is like a distorting mirror,” said Sorescu from the Partnership for Equal Opportunities. “He has a manipulative discourse, with elements that are partially true and upheld by numerous people who agree with him.”

In 2017, the first research conducted in Romania about street harassment found that 95% of women experience it. The Gender Violence Barometer 2022, compiled by the FILIA Centre with support from the German Embassy in Bucharest, showed that Romania remains dominated by traditional stereotypes, with women seen as the second sex. Out of 1,363 respondents, 86% of men and 76% of women said that women need to be protected by men, and the idea that the man is the leader of the household was enforced by more than half of the respondents.

“Violence against women is directly linked to gender values and representations,” said Băluță, who coordinated the research. She stressed that not only is Romanian culture marked by traditional and patriarchal values, but sexism is embedded in how both private and public institutions and political parties function and are organised.

There is no national programme to prevent gender-based violence in schools, but sometimes teachers invite activists to talk to their students about harassment and gender equality. Last autumn, a teacher who was worried about the development of anti-feminist discourse on social media invited Băluță to talk to her class. She discussed Tate with teenagers, both girls and boys, the latter admiring his fame.

“Tate tells them ‘do what you want’, ‘you are the greatest’, ‘women need to lay at your feet’,” Băluță said. “For men, it is evidently a comfortable narrative when someone tells you that if you are a man, you are the greatest in the universe, as opposed to another discourse that tells them to be attentive, don’t talk this way because it’s bullying, it’s harassment.”

Băluță believes it is easier for Tate to find fans and admirers in Romania than in other countries, because neither the media nor the education system provides information about gender equality or gender-based violence. You can get as far as university without encountering information about gender tolerance, she said.

Feminist advocacy

At the end of 2022, FILIA set up a feminist advocacy group within parliament, which includes 29 MPs from different political parties, in an attempt to diminish gender-based violence and facilitate women’s access to sexual reproductive healthcare in the country.

Another group of feminist NGOs, called the Network for the Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women, launched a bill to make 16 the minimum age of sexual consent. It’s currently being debated in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament.

“I would like this [Tate brothers] case to become a pressure point for Romania,” said Cristina Praz, communication and gender equality expert at FILIA. Praz hopes that international pressure will push Romania’s leaders “to do their job” and improve the situation of women in the country.

Even if the Tate brothers are brought to justice, their legacy will linger. Their fanbase within Romania (and elsewhere) continues to share their videos and promote Andrew as a model of masculinity. “The information and influence that they leave behind will require a lot of effort and time,” said Praz. "Such efforts are made by feminist organisations, which are often overwhelmed.”

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