On Friday, July 26, news broke of a possible serial killer in the southern city of Caracal, Romania. The story made headlines and sent shock-waves throughout the entire country after the most recent victim, 15-year-old Alexandra, managed to steal her kidnapper’s phone and call the emergency service number 3 times, describing her location and asking for help. Yet, the police would only arrive 19 hours later, after replying to her cries for help with condescension, ignorance, and gender-based stereotyping. By the time they arrived, they were obviously too late.
So it begins – thousands of articles, social media posts, comments. An entire country furious and asking how the kidnapping, rape and murder of girls was possible, and more so how it was possible for the state to contribute to the crime just as much as the attacker—and yet for Romanian women and girls, the answer is so simple; but this country has just never been willing to listen.
Women and young girls like ourselves have been talking about the violence we face for decades, addressing everything from the normalized groping in public transit to police brushing off reports of domestic violence and rape. We talk about how harassment affects us in schools, then at work, and on the street every time we leave our homes, whether it’s daytime or nighttime, weather we’re wearing shorts or 10 layers of clothes during cold winter months. We talk about how we’re sexualized from a young age every time we’re told to “close our legs” when we’ve only just started middle school or to “cover up” at family dinners, and we talk about how we’re sexualized by our school dress code, in magazines, in commercials that play for months on TV channels across the country.
We talk about sexual assault and how policemen ask us what we did to provoke it, what we were wearing, and if we’re “entirely sure we didn’t flirt with that man at some point.” We talk about domestic violence and how most of the people we know think it’s justified and officers like the chief of police in Buzău tells us to call back in the morning when we’re being beaten in the “dead of night,” despite this kind of aggression being one of the main reasons for the deaths of Romanian women.
We talk about how all of these normalized aspects of our everyday lives portray us girls and women as objects, stripping us of our self-esteem, of our identity, of our safety.
Today, in particular, we talk about how, according to the Caracal chief of police, the first believed victim of the killer, Luiza, had probably just packed up and left with a “handsome man.” Where else could a teenage girl go? In their minds, the case was closed.
We’ve told this country countless times that things need to change—the problem is that you’ve just not been listening. You’re wondering how this was possible? You’re telling yourself it’s the first time in so long you’ve heard of a crime like this? We’re not confused. The attacker might’ve been the one committing the murder, the police might’ve been the ones waiting for a warrant at the gate, but behind all of them is a collective mentality deeply marked by misogyny and distrust in women’s experiences that we are all, as a country, responsible for.
Romania has raised girls who by the age of 15 bond over their different tactics of preventing violence— never wear headphones when walking at night; keep your house keys between your fingers; text your friend your Uber driver’s license plate and let them know as soon as you get home; pretend to stop and search for something in your bag so the person walking behind you can go in front; avoid having your hair styled in a ponytail; always bring a friend wherever you go; don’t excessively spray pepper spray because then you might be the one getting arrested instead.
We all have stories. What’s worse is that every friend that we know has a story just like ours, and we’re lucky that those experiences didn’t go too far, but Alexandra and Luiza’s did.
Because this country doesn’t listen to its women and girls. As we sit in our homes tonight and turn on the TV, we watch a panel asking this very question: how was this possible? Ironically, the answer seems to lie in their very recording studio, because the panel is made up entirely of 7 men, confidently discussing the safety and lives of Romanian women. In truth, the have no idea what it’s like to be in our position.
Only we can tell you. So, we ask of you, even though it’s certainly not for the first time, to listen.
Photo: Sophia Țigănaș/Girl Up Romania