The Sex Worker and Albania's Highest Court

Lindita Cela

Pamela (a pseudonym to protect her identity) was arrested in January last year in a well-known hotel in Tirana, in bed with two businessmen and a substantial quantity of cocaine. She is 18 years old. She started working as a prostitute when she was 14.

A bar in Blloku, the upmarket Tirana entertainment district where some pimps and prostitutes work. Photo: Ivana Dervishi

As a child, Pamela was abandoned by her mother and maltreated by her grandmother. She felt she had no alternative but to run away from home. She left in January 2011, not looking back once, wearing little more than slippers and a sweater.

She did not realise then that the price of her freedom would have to be paid in bed, with men of very different standing, from those with an air of sophistication to hardened drinkers. A close friend gave her shelter — but then explained she would have to earn her keep, by working as a prostitute.

A tall brunette with big black eyes, full lips and a seductive girlish smile, Pamela sold her body in different cities and towns — in Tirana, Durres, Vlora and Saranda. Bouncers, waiters, coffee shop owners, hotel receptionists and taxi drivers took care of providing clients

She normally charged between €200 and €300. In a country where the average wage is around €260, only members of Albania's economic elite could afford such prices.

Pamela doesn’t remember how many clients she had but knows they called her "the MPs' escort lady" because she was rumoured to sell sex to politicians or "cocaine girl". The police operation that resulted in her arrest was codenamed Model Girl. An unimaginative choice, but perhaps an indication of whom the police considered their main target. Not the two businessmen who had paid €300 to have sex with Pamela. They were not charged with any offence. Even their names were not made public.

Pamela, on the other hand, was sent to trial and convicted of working as a prostitute. She is serving her 18-month sentence at a rehabilitation centre for trafficking victims in Linza, on the outskirts of Tirana.

"Every day more and more girls work the streets," she says. "I might have met 300 of them. They're as young as 13."

There have been several attempts to decriminalise prostitution in Albania but all of them have failed. Politicians claim public opinion would not support such a change.

In 2013, parliament rejected a petition from the country's anti-discrimination commissioner to strike prostitution from the criminal code. Some female members of parliament argued in vain that most sex workers were victims of human trafficking and should not be treated as criminals.

Last year, both the government and parliament campaigned against a similar proposal from the national High Court. On June 25, the Constitutional Court sided with the politicians. It ruled in favour of keeping Article 113 of the criminal code, which specifies that prostitution is an offence punishable by a fine or up to three years in prison.

Anti-trafficking experts argue Article 113 is a great help to traffickers and pimps. With the help of clever lawyers, what may start out as a criminal case of sexual exploitation often becomes a case of prostitution. Women get punished, men walk free.

On the basis of Article 113, Pamela, a young woman forced into prostitution as child, was found guilty of a criminal offence and deprived of her liberty for 18 months. None of her clients or pimps has been convicted of any offence.

Once she has finished her sentence, Pamela says, she will go back to prostitution. She does not feel she has any other choice. She plans to move to Belgium. She knows that prostitutes are not prosecuted there.

Lindita Cela joined the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Albania in September 2015. She previously worked for several national print and TV outlets. Her fellowship story on Albanian victims of sex trafficking will be published in the coming days.

Fellow Bio

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Lindita Cela

Lindita Cela is a journalist at Ora News TV in Albania.