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By Lindita Cela. Abused by gangsters, disowned by their families, and let down by the state, Albanian women who were trafficked as sex slaves face an uphill battle to build new lives. Their territory is just a couple of kilometres from the city's central square, the Grand Place, where thousands of tourists flock every day, and from the EU institutions. Watch our founder Lisbeth Kirk explain the reasons in this second video.
After a coffee at a corner cafe around midday, the women wait for clients on the streets. Voluptuous, with long curly hair and big black eyes, year old Eva speaks without embarrassment about the clients she goes with, how much she charges, sexual positions and even the fights among the women who share the street. The man she had fallen for told her she needed to make a "sacrifice for the sake of our love" - to have sex with other men to earn some money for them as a couple.
Without realising, at first, what was happening, Eva had become a victim of sex trafficking - or, as it is more formally known, trafficking in women for sexual exploitation. There may be as many as , sex-trafficking victims in Europe and around a third come from the Balkans, according to a UN report from Thousands of women and girls have been trafficked from Albania alone to western Europe as sex slaves in the last two decades.
Well-organised criminal gangs control the trafficking, sometimes with the complicity of the victims' own family members, and launder profits by buying property back in Albania, police and experts say. Efforts to crack down on the gangs face serious obstacles. Complex international investigations are required and it is widely accepted that criminals can buy influence in the justice system of Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries.
Official complicity in trafficking crimes remains a significant concern," says the section on Albania in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report. It also notes that when the report was published, in July, "a sitting member of [the Albanian] parliament had prior convictions for trafficking-related crimes". Meanwhile, many victims who escape from the gangs end up back in the sex trade after being shunned by their own families and communities and after receiving only modest help from the Albanian state to build a new life.