BUCHAREST, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Anca thought girls who spoke on television about being sold into sex slavery were paid to invent such stories to boost tv show ratings.
That was until she answered a friend's invitation to join her in Germany and work as a dishwasher in a town near Hamburg.
When she arrived, her passport was taken away and her captors forced her to work as a prostitute for their clients.
Three months later she slid down two floors on a drainpipe, ran several kilometres (miles) through a forest and finally found a taxi that took her to a police station and safety.
"The girl who invited me won her freedom by bringing in two other girls," said Anca, a quiet 20-year-old from a Romanian village. She asked for her real name to be withheld to protect her from her captors.
As they prepare to join the European Union, Romania and Bulgaria are struggling to contain human trafficking and smuggling, particularly in drugs, which is endemic in the Black Sea region that will soon become the EU's eastern border.
Every year, thousands of women such as Anca, some as young as 13, are kidnapped or lured by promises of well paying jobs or marriage and sold to gangs who lock them up in night clubs and brothels or force them to work on the streets.
Observers say even more women could be at risk after the two countries join the EU in January and traffickers seek to increase business by taking advantage of easier access to western Europe, where most of the victims end up.
"There is a lot of exploitation in Romania and I am sure the numbers will get bigger," said Gina-Maria Stoian, Anca's case manager and the director of The Adpare Foundation, a Romanian organisation that helps victims of human trafficking.
"Already there is sex tourism around the Black Sea."
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