Victims of domestic exploitation and forced prostitution in Shkoder lack support to reintegrate, while the police, prosecutors, and courts fail to punish the perpetrators.
In the mid ‘90s, G.B. traveled to Greece with her boyfriend, who had told her he wanted to marry her. But soon after they arrived, he sold her off to traffickers for 500 thousand leks (approximately 3,700 euros) and forced her into prostitution.
“He went out to buy cigarettes and he came back with two other people. He told me: ‘You have to go with them because I sold you for five million old leks [500 thousand leks]. We are done here,’” she recounted to BIRN.
Now, at age 45, she says that her life was stolen at only 20 years old, when she was ripped away from home and her family, who had disapproved of her relationship.
“They made me work as a prostitute. I could not do anything. My family in Shkoder had forsaken me ever since I had left, and I didn’t communicate with them,” she said.
G.B. said that she had no other choice. After two years in Greece, the traffickers sold her to others in Italy, where she worked for 13 years until she suffered an accident, which left her with a metal rod in her foot.
After the accident she returned to Shkoder, but her circumstances did not change.
She told BIRN that her parents had passed away, and her brother had ceased all communication with her. In poor living conditions, she resumed sex work.
“I have no other profession, I don’t know how to sew or repair shoes. I can only clean, but I still couldn’t find a job. I was referred to different offices, but was never offered a job,” she said.
A 2007 report by Albanian Police states that at least 5,162 women and girls were victims of sex trafficking between 1992 and 2005.
Albania has a tragic history of human trafficking of young women to be exploited for prostitution, which boomed immediately after the fall of the communist dictatorship until the end of 2000. As BIRN found in a previous investigation, a great number of victims of forced prostitution face difficulties to be re-integrated in society and thus return to prostitution.
A 2007 report by Albanian Police states that at least 5,162 women and girls were victims of sex trafficking between 1992 and 2005. According to this report, around 22 per cent were minors when trafficked.
Although the type of trafficking that G.B. suffered 25 years ago is no longer a significant problem in the District of Shkoder, the number of women that are domestically exploited in hotels or apartments has increased. And the majority of those accused of forcing women into prostitution end up with suspended sentences.
Data from the local police, as well as from the Regional Committee Against Trafficking, state that there are no registered cases of trafficking in the past years, but both institutions report cases of exploitation of women in the city of Shkoder.
The president of the Shkoder branch of the Regional Committee Against Trafficking, Felek Kasemi, told BIRN that they did not record any cases, but, according to her, “there are three cases of prostitution that are under investigation from the police and other relevant institutions.”
Meanwhile, official police data for 2016 list two new cases of exploitation through prostitution. Meanwhile, from January 1 until September 12, 2017, four other cases were also uncovered.
Furthermore, a report from the National Coordinator for Issues Concerning War Against Trafficking of Persons notices that beside the trafficking to western countries, there is domestic trafficking of women and girls with the intention of exploitation. The 2015 report nonetheless highlights the existence of domestic as well as foreign trafficking of women who are sent from town to town and are forced into prostitution.
Albanian women and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor within the country, especially during tourist season.
An increase of the domestic trafficking intended for prostitution is also highlighted in the latest report on trafficking of human beings compiled by the United States State Department.
“Albanian women and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor within the country, especially during tourist season,” states the report.
According to Shkoder police and the prosecutors, the recruiting methods are the same, but they both note that a number of those who work in prostitution in Albania are women in their 40s who had previously been victims of sex trafficking, or those with family or economic problems.
One of the prosecutors in Shkoder told BIRN that there has been an increase in the number of cases of prostituted women with family problems, divorced, with history of rape in the family, and of those without means of supporting themselves or their children.
“While a couple of years ago it was young women that were recruited, these last years we saw an increase in women, who often are divorced, with children, women who have experienced violence from their former spouses, and those in economic difficulties,” said the prosecutor, who asked to remain anonymous.
Sh.H., a lawyer who declined to be identified by full name, told BIRN that about a case defending a mother of six children who was accused of prostitution and was sentenced with ten months in jail, and the decision was suspended for three years.
“She was a woman divorced from her violent husband, with six children. Her ex-husband refused to economically support the children and she lived by selling blood, but also her body,” said the lawyer.
Although domestic trafficking of women without support has increased, the punishment of the exploiters remains low. According to the State department report on trafficked persons, in the majority of the cases, the exploiters end up unpunished.
But the Shkoder prosecutor told BIRN that middlemen and procurers are arrested, but when they appear in court, the women or girls take over the blame, since the punishment for them is less severe.
According to the report by the National Coordinator for Issues Concerning War Against Trafficking of Persons, in 2015, among 80 cases with 90 accused for exploitation for prostitution or trafficking, only 15 were arrested, 44 are being tried in freedom, and the rest were let go or simply detained.
In the files of Shkoder courts since 2012, BIRN found that except for a single case, a woman sentenced with 4.8 years in jail, all of the accused for exploitation for prostitution have been conditionally freed. The same was with women who were sentenced with prostitution.
The original article was published in Albanian by Reporteri.