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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 , 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. 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.
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 month sentence at a rehabilitation centre for trafficking victims in Linza, on the outskirts of Tirana. 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. 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 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 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 , 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.