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VLORE, Albania — It was only after her trafficker sealed her mouth with electrical tape, drugged her and threatened to kill her family that the childlike woman, now 27, says she realized that the man she had planned to marry had seduced her with a terrible lie. Her journey at age 18 from an Albanian village to a London brothel, where she said she spent five years working as a prostitute, began with a gold engagement ring, the promise of a better life abroad and — like many before her — a speedboat trip to Italy under the cover of night.
So many women, men and children had been trafficked abroad to work as prostitutes, forced laborers or beggars that the Albanian government three years ago barred all Albanian citizens from using speedboats, the favored transportation used by traffickers to get people out of the country. But the ban prompted loud protests from fishermen and people in the tourism industry, and in May it was reversed.
Law enforcement and human rights officials are concerned that as a result, human trafficking may explode anew — at an especially difficult time. The financial crisis, many experts said, could increase human trafficking around the world. For victims like the woman from the small village, ensnared by the false promises of her trafficker, that fight is a matter of survival. Where was I to go? She said the man who abducted her had gained her trust over months, then locked her in a room and took her passport and cellphone.
She said he beat her and cut her with a penknife, a warning of what he would do if she tried to escape. She said she was forced to be a prostitute in London and in Antwerp, Belgium. The woman would not provide her name for fear of retribution from the trafficker, making it impossible to corroborate her story with the police report she said she had filed against the man. But the coordinator and director of the shelter where she is staying have reviewed the details of her case and vouched for her credibility.
At the height of the trafficking, experts estimate, thousands of women, men and children were taken to nearby Greece and Italy and elsewhere for sexual exploitation or forced labor.