Ky artikull eshte publikuar ne Gazeten lokale, Telegram&Gazette ne Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. Mendoj se eshte me interes per kete teme dhe komunitetin e gjere shqiptar, si dhe te atij te ketij forumi. Tema qe trajtohet eshte nje nga me shqetesueset per shoqerine shqiptare, dhe sidomos per Femren shqiptare dhe te drejtat e saj.
Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Voices from stolen faces
September 30, 2003
Section: LOCAL NEWS
By Emilie Astell
WORCESTER -- Etel Haxhiaj returned from a trip to her native Albania thankful that she was not among Albanian women forced to work as prostitutes for men who promised them a better life.
A senior at Clark University, Ms. Haxhiaj, 23, spent part of this past summer in Albania doing research and interviewing women caught in the trafficking network. Women are smuggled to Italy where they are kept isolated and unable to contact family or friends. The co-ed left the country saddened by what she learned but determined to inform others about the plight of women in a country where education and employment opportunities are few.
``Women my age and younger were forced to be in this kind of business,'' she said, her face reddening at the memory of the tortured lives the two women she interviewed endured.
Estimates are that 40,000 Albanian girls and young women are working as prostitutes in Italy and other Western European countries, according to a report from Radio Free Europe. Albania has about 3 million residents with 600,000 working in foreign countries, mostly Italy and Greece.
Based on her research and discussions with Albanian officials, Ms. Haxhiaj believes the number of Albanian women forced into prostitution is closer to 9,000. Many of the women come from rural areas, are poor and have little education, she said.
In his speech to the United Nations last week, President Bush said an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold or forced across international borders each year. Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls and children as young as 5 who are victims of the sex trade.
The U.S. government is committing $50 million to support the work of organizations that are rescuing women and children from exploitation and giving them shelter and medical treatment.
``We must show new energy in fighting back an old evil,'' Mr. Bush told the General Assembly.
The trafficking problem is what caused Ms. Haxhiaj to apply for and receive a $2,300 Anton Fellowship grant from Clark to make the trip abroad. The grant is funded by Clark alumni for undergraduates' independent projects, she said.
``It's always been in my mind,'' the young woman said, explaining her reasons for pursuing the research. ``I lived in Vlora where the problems were.''
Her hometown is a port city along the Adriatic Sea where she saw speedboats loaded with passengers leave the docks headed for Italy. She and her parents and grandmother left Albania in 1997, first going to Greece and later winning a United States-run lottery to immigrate to this country. They settled in Texas, staying there until May 2001 when they moved to Worcester after Ms. Haxhiaj was accepted at Clark.
Ms. Haxhiaj learned English in Albania and in Greece, where she attended the International American School.
Before beginning her project, Ms. Haxhiaj had to carefully plan how to go about interviewing the women. Her proposal to videotape the women was rejected by a human rights committee at Clark, she said, out of concerns for the subjects' safety.
She decided to tape-record conversations while keeping the identities of the women she interviewed confidential. She plans to write about her findings, possibly presenting them at a fall festival in November or during Spree Day activities in April 2004.
Ms. Haxhiaj agreed to destroy the tapes after she finishes with them. She also had to make careful plans for her own safety while traveling in Albania.
Through the International Organization of Migration in Tirana, the capital of Albania, she set up interviews with women who volunteered to tell their stories.
One of the women, an 18-year-old, married an Albanian man whom she grew to dislike. He took her to another city in Albania where he forced her to work as a prostitute in hotels and motels.
The 18-year-old divorced her husband, later entering a relationship with an older man who promised her a better life with him in Italy. But after arriving in Italy, the older man held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her if she did not engage in prostitution.
After eight months of captivity, where the young woman endured the sexual whims of two dozen or more customers a night, she found the older man's cell phone, Ms. Haxhiaj said.
The 18-year-old called her mother in Albania, who in turn notified Italian authorities. Police also pressured the older man's father, who called his son and begged him to release the young woman.
She was returned to Albania where she lives in a shelter recovering from her ordeal.
``She is only 18 and such a strong person,'' Ms. Haxhiaj said.
The second woman interviewed is 24 years old. She was frightened that the men who took her to Italy would find her again, Ms. Haxhiaj said.
Her story was similar to the 18-year-old's, in that she was promised a better life in Italy. When she resisted her captors' efforts to force her to engage in prostitution, the men threatened to kill her parents and three younger sisters.
The 24-year-old escaped from Italy twice, only to be smuggled back to the country. On her third try for freedom, she succeeded in boarding a train and notifying authorities.
On the relatively quiet campus of Clark, Ms. Haxhiaj is working hard to finish her undergraduate degree as a full-time student while organizing the information she accumulated on her Albanian trip. She expects to graduate in May and is applying to graduate school. She also works part time as a waitress at Coral Seafood Restaurant at 112 Green St.
Albania, she said, is a country in transition and is often used by traffickers to transport their captives from neighboring countries to the coast to await boats.
During her homeland trip, she heard Albanians talk of the captive women as if they wanted to work as prostitutes. Such conversations upset her, she said, because the human rights violations she heard about were so touching.
``It was very sad to sit down across from a girl my age and hear of the abuse,'' she said. ``They're normal girls like me. If they were not forced to do what they did, they would have a normal life.''
ART: PHOTO; MAP
PHOTOG: (PHOTO) T&G Staff/MARK C. IDE
CUTLINE: Clark University senior Etel Haxhiaj is back on campus after visiting her homeland of Albania this summer to do research on the number of Albanian women forced into prostitution.