LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A celebrity rapper and convicted human trafficker who forced women and a child into sex work across Europe has left a hit Bulgarian reality TV show after an outcry from campaign groups.
Ivan Glavchev, or Vanko 1, this week left the hugely popular show VIP Brother, a “Celebrity Big Brother” spin-off, after his criminal history was highlighted by women’s rights activists.
“Over the last few days we have watched in shock as a proven international criminal ... has been treated as a hero and a VIP on a prime-time national TV show,” activist group Ne Si Sama (You Are Not Alone) said in an open letter posted on Facebook.
The owners of Bulgaria’s Nova TV channel, which airs the show, said it was reviewing its selection criteria and would not allow anyone with a similar conviction to take part in future.
Glavchev was convicted in 2003 of running an organization that trafficked Bulgarian women and a minor to work in prostitution in western Europe, according to various media.
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison but only served three after parliament approved a controversial law change which reduced sentences for some prostitution and pimping offences.
During his time in the VIP Brother house, Glavchev is reported to have said: “Gender equality is something artificially pressed on us. I see nothing wrong with women being subject to men. Everyone should know their rightful place.”
Members of Ne Si Sama said they believed their protest had been key in pressing Glavchev to leave the reality TV show.
“The amount of TV prime time given to victims and survivors of violence compared to that given to proponents of misogyny, homophobia, racism and so on speaks for itself,” spokeswoman Galina Lacheva said in a statement after Glavchev’s departure.
Anti-trafficking groups also condemned the decision to offer Glavchev a platform. He cited personal reasons for his exit.
“We think it’s very odd to give a public podium to a person who commits a crime as serious as human trafficking,” Suzanne Hoff, international coordinator at European anti-trafficking group La Strada told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“It shows more or less that it seems to be OK to do that ... it gives a very wrong message to the general public,” she added.
About 32,000 people - or 1 in 250 of the population - are enslaved in Bulgaria, the 2018 Global Slavery Index found. Bulgaria is considered a main source country for human trafficking in Europe, according to the U.S. State Department.
Reporting by Sonia Elks; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, resilience and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.