Italy's sexual slave trade

BBC News, Wednesday 2 August 2000, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK

In the first of two special reports, the BBC's Brian Barron investigates Italy's clandestine trade in sexual slaves and the Albanian criminals behind the business.

It is estimated that there could be more than 40,000 foreign prostitutes on the streets of Italy—and the numbers are increasing.

The streetwalkers venture out every night after 10, on the edge of big cities like Rome.

In the Eor district, they are Albanian or from other former communist countries.

Most are controlled by Albanian mafia gangsters. A handful have travelled to Italy through their own efforts.

One streetwalker whose identity must be kept secret recalls her particular journey.

“I came by boat,” she says.

“I was smuggled in. I had tried four times. It was a horrible trip.”

“It was winter, cold and raining. It was a terrible risk. I saw dead people with my own eyes.”

“Each trip was awful but that was my choice. If I returned to Albania I was dead.”

“Dead or alive—this was my only choice.”

The former Italian MP, Carol Bebbe Tarantelli, says that the women are slaves.

“They are brought here,” she says.

“Their passports are destroyed often, usually as a matter of fact they are tortured to break their wills.”

“They’re moved around from place to place so they don’t know where they are. They don’t speak the language.”

“They’re terrified and they can’t escape. They’re held in slavery.”


For many of the girls, the journey began in their Albanian homeland.

In Durres, most people are out of work, surviving on remittances from relatives abroad, like the girls on the streets of Italy.

In its poverty and human desperation it is typical of countless Albanian communities.

Once Albania was an all-powerful communist police state. It is now a country beyond the rule of law.

The police chief of Durres, Colonel Albert Pilo, is having a difficult time stamping out the smuggling of young girls.

“We have had some success against traffickers in prostitutes,” he says.

“We’ve arrested at least three. But a big problem is what to do with the girls caught up in the system, especially if they come from outside Albania.”

“The fact is we do not have any organisation for helping them.”

“At times we’ve had to keep the girls in prison because there's nowhere for them to go.”

Dramatic pictures, taken two years ago, show one of the speedboats of the Albanian mafia being intercepted by Italian security forces.

It was trying to land a batch of illegal immigrants on Italy's Adriatic coast.

Boxes of drugs were thrown overboard as the gangsters, travelling at 60 miles an hour, evaded the helicopters and ships trying to encircle them.

On the coast at Lecce, the Italian Justice Ministry, working with a Catholic charity, has launched another kind of assault on the Albanian mafia.

In one camp for illegal immigrants, Father Cesari helps run a witness protection programme for former prostitutes from Albania and Eastern Europe.

“The choice of denouncing their pimps is an act of responsibility,” he says.

“It's not an easy decision to make. So these girls must have the courage to do it.

“To cut all ties with the past. By pointing the finger at those who abuse them there is the chance that some of the guilty will be brought to justice.”

Eighty girls have collaborated. They have been rewarded with the right to remain in Italy and, when necessary, new identities.

However, 500 declined because they were afraid of the godfathers.