Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sex Tourism a.k.a. Let Me Buy You A Drink on Your Birthday

I could have chosen a different topic for my first post in quite some time: positive declarations by members of the French Cabinet in favor of Romania's 2007 EU adherence, on account of swift judicial reforms; negative feedback from German top politicians on account of Romania's thriving corruption and opposition to the 2007 said accession; the rather hilarious contrast between the above two (if you dig political humor rooted in the history of EU internal dynamics, that is); the 8 miners killed in a mine crash in Southwest Romania; the Avian flu situation which makes me wonder if I can even travel to Romania in the next couple of months, eat anything with chicken and come back to the U.S. without having to sign some last-minute declaratory form the USCIS came up with (and yes, I believe the former INS, current United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, is indeed capable of coming up with overnight forms tailored to citizens of countries on the "Avian" list; but hey, I would rather be on that list than the "black" one); K. Rowling's upcoming visit to Romania for a charity dinner to the joy of Harry Potter fans and European orphans; and the list could go on. Instead, I chose a seemingly appalling subject not only for its abhorrent nature, but also for its ties to the U.S.:

U.S., Moldovan, Romanian Cooperation Leads to Sex Tourist Arrests
... or as a Romanian source put it, clearly emphasizing the attention-grabbers in Romanian mass media:
American Millionaire Arrested for Sexually Abusing Romanian Children

I had initially read the news on Romanian sites and only after did I realize the indictment was actually filed in Philadelphia. According to the U.S. Department of State Press Release Linked above, the American citizen in question - Anthony Mark Bianchi - is charged with one count of conspiracy to engage in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, two counts of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, two counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, and one count of using a facility in foreign commerce to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity. The "facility" is allegedly a pub in Romania where Mr. Bianchi took a teenager on his birthday, got him drunk and engaged in illicit sexual conduct with him.

There is much to be said about legal drinking age in Romania; although drinking establishments have a legal obligation to prohibit selling of alcohol to anyone under the age of 18, the law is hardly ever enforced in urban centers, and almost never in rural areas. While the debate about governmental age restriction on drinking is neverending, I don't believe many of the arguments against it include sexual abuse by foreign tourists. It has been my experience that drinking on one's birthday starting at the age of 15 (or even before that) is an established practice amongst Romanian teenagers, highly tolerated by society and inducive of the high lack of enforcement of said law.

What I find particularly interesting is that while Bianchi was arrested in New Jersey and the crimes were mainly committed abroad, the indictment was brought in a Philadelphia court, since he conspired to travel from Philadelphia International Airport to Cuba, the Republic of Moldova and Romania. There is a clear explanation for this - according to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, unless a statute or these rules permit otherwise, the government must prosecute an offense in a district where the offense was committed. The respective "conspiracy" took place at the Philadelphia International Airport; since the purpose of Bianchi's trip is correlated to a criminal intent, then I assume the logical extension is the crime was committed in a U.S. district.

There are a lot of issues with the Romanian - American collaboration - suspected CIA prisons in Eastern Europe being just the latest in a long stream. However, maybe once in a while all the bickering, bitter anti-American diatribes should take a break and remember what we wouldn't have without said cooperation. Now whether spies and war prisoners are - or should be - terrorized and interrogated in secret camps in Romania is a different story. And no matter how many rectifying acts of the Bianchi type there are, I don't think the matter here is a quid pro quo. It's just another way of looking at an issue, that I hope will be less overlooked by mass media in general - and the European ones in particular.

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