The other day, while riding the city bus, I watched a woman get on the bus while another passenger that was already on the bus noticed a stray hair on her shoulder and plucked it off for her. These two women were complete strangers. Albanians are very concerned, sometimes overly so, with surface appearances. In fact, women here frequently check one another out to determine how much your outfit cost or how many designer labels you are sporting. It took me a while to get used to these searching examinations from other women.
This obsession with comparison and surface appearances has dire consequences in the case of trafficking. For example, the police in Albania have cut down on their referrals of trafficked women through the proper channels because they want to keep the number of victims, particularly those returned from abroad, low. In their aspirations of entering the European Union, it is in their interests that the phenomenon appears to be decreasing. In a recent visit to the United Kingdom, some officials from the Albanian government declared that trafficking abroad was no longer a problem for Albania. Not only is this untrue, it is dangerous. When donors hear this news, they shift their funds elsewhere and efforts to prosecute the traffickers, as well as others responsible, are hampered. This preoccupation with outward appearance, with reputation and the view of one’s family in the eyes of others, also contributes to shame and stigma against the girls who do return home from trafficking for sex work.
There are many rumors and half truths that you become aware of once you begin to delve into the trafficking issue in the Balkan region. A particularly pervasive theory is that women and girls are frequently trafficked from Albania to Macedonia to Kosovo. Although this route was used in previous years, since the moratorium on speedboats (frequently used to traffick women as well as drugs) between Albania and Italy for three years under Operation ‘Deti I Qete” or Calm Sea, use of this route has increased dramatically. Last week, on a trip to Macedonia and Kosovo to examine this claim for myself, I was struck by the dramatic natural beauty of the journey.
The journey by bus, as many trafficked women reputedly travel, is particularly enchanting between Skopje, Macedonia and Pristina in Kosovo. The hillsides are green, covered with trees and whitewashed houses with red tile roofs. Behind these hills, there are small grey mountains, wreathed in mist. How ironic that the trip of trafficked women across these borders is so lovely, that the horror that awaits them is entirely belied by the beauty of this place. Even nature seemed to reinforce that, on the surface, all was well and pretty. If I were a trafficked woman on this journey, looking at these sleepy hamlets tucked into the green hillsides, would I know that I was destined for hell?
Posted By Jennifer Hollinger
Posted Aug 7th, 2007