For over ten years, the Association of Albanian Girls and Women (AAGW) has assisted victims of human trafficking in Albania. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 Albanian girls and women who are currently or who formerly have been victims of illegal trafficking for the purpose of enforced prostitution, one third of whom are younger than eighteen.
Albanian girls fall victim to this type of sexual exploitation through a combination of deception and violence. Typically, a teenaged Albanian girl becomes the prey of a young man who feigns falling in love with her, proposes, and whisks her off to what she believes will be a fairytale life in a western country. In reality, the young man is a pimp, a paid employee of a well-organized and sophisticated illegal trafficking network. In other characteristic scenarios, the girls are duped into thinking they have been hired for a legitimate job as a domestic worker, waitress, or nanny in a western European country. Once in control of the trafficker, however, the girls are threatened, abused, raped, and forcibly smuggled out of Albania; their passports and official documents are seized. They are then sold and resold from one organized crime syndicate to another, and the treatment they receive is unspeakable. Some are deprived of food; many are beaten regularly. The traffickers also threaten the life of victims’ family members and tell the girls that if they try to escape, their family members will be killed, which in fact has happened. In other documented cases, girls who refused to prostitute themselves were killed. Victims receive little or no pay for their work and are commonly tortured if they do not comply.
Most of the Albanian women and girls are trafficked to Italy and Greece, but some are trafficked as far as England and Belgium. Not only are the victims physically and emotionally abused, but some contract AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Younger girls are most sought after (and the most valuable to traffickers) because they are virgins and carry no risk of AIDS. If the girls become pregnant, they are forced to have abortions. Some traffickers intentionally addict the girls to drugs to maintain control.
To make matters worse, corruption is a rampant problem in Albania. Complicating the situation, a number of girls are actually kidnapped, often from small villages; some are even sold by their families for money. In a documented case, one family in a northern village sold one of their daughters for a cow.
Some of the “lucky” ones manage to escape; others are fortunately arrested by non-corrupt police officers who then deport them back to Albania where there are two shelters to house them, one in the capital and the other in a smaller town. All of the victims are in various stages of post-traumatic stress. The shelters have social workers who counsel them, and the victims' stories are so distressing that the social workers need secondary counseling themselves to cope.
The legal system here is still in its infancy making it extremely difficult to prosecute traffickers. Corruption is a problem, and often traffickers receive light sentences. Victims are afraid to testify and rightfully so, since the traffickers can easily track them down as well as their family members. A witness protection program has been established, but the immigration laws and refugee quotas of many western European countries have made it difficult to find homes for these women outside the country where they will be safe.
The average age of the victims living in the main shelter for trafficked women in Tirana is seventeen; the youngest girls have been twelve. Many of the girls have nowhere else to go. Due to the shame associated with prostitution, many fathers will not accept their daughters back into the family. AAGW supports a number of projects to aid the shelter residents, including vocational training and job placement as well as artistic handicraft production and fundraising activities. These young women have been robbed of their human dignity. AAGW seeks to help them restore it.