Currently, of social media, certain people have risen to prominence and fame whose stories now dot the headlines of newspapers and network news. Two of those people are online stars and former kickboxers Tristan and Andrew Tate. These two men are British-American reality television and professional kickboxers who parlayed their success and fame into notoriety which has nothing to do with either of those two areas. These two famous men (at least in the online world) are accused by Romanian law enforcement of committing various crimes related to human trafficking.
The Tate brothers were arrested in Romania on December 29, 2022, related to charges that each contributed to the formation of a criminal group that sought to sexually exploit vulnerable women. Romanian prosecutors argue that the Tate brothers used intimidating language and deceptive wording to bring six women from the country of Moldova (an eastern European nation) under their control and influence. Their plan, prosecutors say, was to lure these women into the sphere of influence of the Tates only to force them to appear on the website “OnlyFans" – a subscription-based, pornographic website that allows people to view videos, photos, and interact with featured models.
A total of six women are said to have been contacted by the Tates to recruit them to their home in Romania. After the Tate brothers were arrested, two of the six women cited by prosecutors in their charging document came forward to offer an opinion that the Tates were innocent of any wrongdoing. The remaining women have not made public comments about the situation and charges related to the Tates.
The World of online fame
At least for me, a man in his late 30s, the world of online media and fame is a foreign place. That could be because I have kids and a wife and don't spend much time online. However, Andrew Tate is someone who does spend a lot of time online. He has a massive social media following across multiple platforms. The following of his is mostly young men who are drawn to his image of being a ladies' man, athlete, rich, successful gentleman of leisure. While his talents and work to develop his kickboxing skills led to his being the World Champion in that sport, he is more well-known as an online personality and influencer.
The Tates have cultivated their image as influencers by making controversial and bombastic statements on a series of different subjects- many having to do with women. To that point, Facebook and Instagram have barred them from posting on their platforms. The women who are cited by Romanian authorities as being the victims of the Tates were said to have lived with them for a period in 2022 in Romania. The Tates, Romanian authorities argue, did not allow the women to leave the home(s) where they lived and further kept them there with promises of wealth via the online modeling website.
The Tates were arrested in December 2022 and held in prison for the beginning months of 2023. An appeal of their detention by law enforcement was heard by a Romanian court but ultimately rejected in February 2022. Under Romanian law, a judge may order a person’s detention in prison for up to 180 days while an investigation is ongoing. The Tates employed two Romanian women, so say Romanian authorities, who acted as handlers for the Tates- controlling the social media accounts of the women and threatening them with violence if they did not act appropriately or perform well in their video segments online.
From prison to house arrest
In early April 2022, the Tate brothers were moved from prison to house arrest. A request was made by Romanian prosecutors to keep the pair in prison until late April while an ongoing investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing on their part continued. However, the Romanian court sided with the Tates, and the two were placed under house arrest. This ended a more than three-month prison stay for the pair and their female Romanian accomplices.
By order of the judge, the Tates are not allowed to leave the house without prior permission from law enforcement authorities. Prosecutors have until late June to bring the case to trial. Charges have been filed against each of the four suspects, but the case is still under investigation, and a trial date has not yet been set. The Tates' position since the beginning of the investigation has been that prosecutors are holding them in prison or house arrest until evidence can be found which can substantiate the allegations and criminal charges levied against them.
What can the situation involving the Tates show us about criminal law, generally?
Those are the circumstances involving the Tate and their alleged co-conspirators. The Tates have not had their day in court and have not had a formal opportunity to contradict or argue against the charges that have been made against them by Romanian law enforcement. What we do know is that Andrew Tate has gained notoriety by playing up a misogynistic and bad-boy image to his hordes of online followers. Without trying to speculate on the matter too much, I think it is fair to say that the Tates have certainly not helped themselves in the world of public opinion due to their controversial image and online personas. Nobody is going to feel sorry for them, in other words. Does this mean they're guilty of the crimes they have been accused of? Not at all. It does mean that when people view the situation from the outside it should not be expected that they would feel sympathy for the pair.
In the United States and around the world, human trafficking has become an area of focus for law enforcement and victim's rights groups. The age of the internet has made human trafficking that much easier given how simple it is to communicate. We are also in contact with people and places that we otherwise would have never been able to meet. This is how a couple of ex-kickboxers could have contacted multiple women from around the world to allegedly recruit them under pretenses to join their online network of web-based performers and models.
There is a long history of allegations made against Andrew Tate which relate to criminal law around the world. In 2013, a woman who had previously been in a relationship with Tate filed a sexual assault complaint against him. In 2015, two other women joined the initial woman's complaint of sexual assault. These women alleged both sexual and physical assault. The police took some time to bring the case to British prosecutors. The case was never brought to court despite evidence provided by the women which included text messages and audio recordings.
What was the justification provided by British prosecutors for not bringing formal charges against Andrew Tate? In Great Britain, the Crown Prosecution Services is tasked with deciding whether there is a good chance of being successful in a court case related to criminal charges determined that there would be enough doubt in the minds of jurors as to the criminality of Mr. Tate's actions that it would be better to not bring charges. The major doubts of the group centered around Mr. Tate and the initial woman having previously been in a consensual relationship.
The perfect victim narrative and how it can be harmful to public safety
Despite evidence that pointed squarely at the bad actions and criminality of Mr. Tate's behavior, the British authorities declined to press charges based on sexual and physical abuse. There is a belief in some victim's rights circles that in many instances a prosecutor will only choose to charge a person for sexual abuse or sexual assault if the victim measures up to a certain kind of criteria or if he or she is seen as a "perfect" victim. Because one of the women had a backstory that involved a consensual, sexual relationship with Mr. Tate it was believed that this caused British prosecutors to get cold feet regarding bringing charges against the online star.
This is an interesting theory and one that is prevalent in the legal community. The theory goes like this. As a culture, we tend to associate rape as involving people that do not know each other. We see depictions of rape in movies and television shows where the rapist and the victim do not know each other. The woman, who is frequently the victim, is going about her normal routine- only to be interrupted by the perpetrator, usually a man, who seeks her out for a violent encounter. There are countless storylines from movies, television shows, and books that follow this exact premise.
The reality of the situation when it comes to sexual assault, statistically speaking, is different from this scene that has played out time and time again in print and on the big screen. Approximately half the time a person is sexually assaulted it is by a person that he or she ether is in a relationship with or at least knows on a personal level. While the truth of the matter regarding sexual assault is slowly starting to emerge, decades and centuries of wrong belief on the topic have held victims and law enforcement back. When we talk about situations involving sexual assault, it is just as likely as the victim and perpetrator know one another than not.
What happens next is equally as sad, frustrating, and dangerous, frankly. Much of the time the victim of the sexual assault will continue to remain in a relationship with the assaulter. This opens the person up to more opportunities to be victimized. On every occasion where a victim's perpetrator is not prosecuted, the person is emboldened to act in ways like this- as are other people who otherwise would have been encouraged not to act in this way out of a concern for future legal issues.
When Andrew Tate was caught up in the aftermath of his possibly being charged with sexual assault, this is when he decided to leave Great Britain and move to Romania. Since 2017, Mr. Tate has resided in Romania. This is where his "headquarters" has been since he developed the strong online persona that we have been profiling throughout this blog post. More people have searched for him via Google than many notable figures such as Donald Trump.
In a time where we should be praising victims of sexual abuse and assault for coming forward and being willing to share their stories with us, we are instead facing a problem that results in fewer victims doing so. The reason, in large part, is due to a concern that victims will not be believed by the public or by law enforcement. What we are left with is a sense that victims must live up to a certain standard or not be believed for having gone through what they have gone through. Or, even if the victim is believed, it is still not a given that the perpetrator of the sexual abuse will be held accountable by the law. This is true in Great Britain and the United States.
Another aspect of this discussion that bears mentioning is that in the age of social media, we should not expect people are going to be held accountable by their online fans or other communities that largely gather online. We not only need to look at the situation involving Mr. Tate and his brother to see that accountability is not going to be learned by preaching to the choir of one's fans. Accountability is best received through a legal system seeing the process through- including thorough investigations, charges, and a trial by jury or by a judge. Then the outcome of the matter can be more settled. The safety of our communities and our faith in the judicial process depends upon it.
The role of online video and pornography websites
Illegal uploading of videos to the internet is a crime in Texas. As an aside, and independent of the situation involving the Tate brothers, pornographic websites have come under fire in recent years from activists, parents, and exploited men and women for posting inappropriate and illegal videos without the permission of the person who has been depicted. The websites that host these videos and their parent companies who often share the videos across multiple platforms simultaneously are ready and willing to profit from these illegal actions.
There is an old saying: a lie travels around the world before the truth has a chance to put its shoes on. Meaning: lies travel faster than the truth, usually by a considerable margin. When we talk about how the truth can become something that matters more to people, we can start by thinking more about how victims of sexual abuse are treated by the legal system. When victims of sexual abuse and assault do not see their attackers prosecuted that can send a signal to the victim and others that this sort of behavior is tolerated. Again, it is not as if an online community, website, or other company will hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions. Rather, the legal system must step up and pursue prosecutions more readily in situations where the evidence warrants it.
When people visit pornographic websites, they may inadvertently stumble upon content that depicts a person who is underaged, exploited, trafficked, or all three at the same time. It is impossible to discern the difference between a willing and legal participant in a video and someone who is there against their will or is underage. Law enforcement on a federal level has cracked down on videos and content like this. However, the vastness of the internet makes it nearly impossible to police the uploading and sharing of illegal content. Even when legislatures pass laws intended to slow down the transmission of these videos, the bad actors can be one step ahead of the game in terms of sharing the content and making it more difficult for them to be caught.
The situation involving the Tates is extreme, no doubt. It is not that every accused trafficker of women is an internationally known kickboxing champion and social media influencer. The people who typically practice trafficking others are usually operating at the margins of society in a way where it makes tracking them down difficult. However, if prominent men like the Tates can go through the legal system's process of accountability, no matter the outcome, it sends a strong signal that trafficking, abuse, and assault are not tolerated no matter who the victim is or what their backstory may be.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed criminal law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas criminal law as well as how your family's circumstances may be impacted by a criminal court case.