TIP Award Year:
In 1997, Vera Lesko was given a project: conduct a survey to find out more about prostitution in Albania. What she found was evidence of sex trafficking and modern-day slavery. Galvanized by her findings, she sought to get the police involved, and other organizations. She had little luck, and so founded a shelter to care for victims of trafficking and continued to advocate. As she began to provide direct assistance to victims, however, she faced an increasing threat to her personal safety and that of her family. She sent her daughter away to keep her safe, and suffered several physical assaults in the streets in retaliation against her efforts.
In 1999, she founded the Vatra (The Hearth) Psychological-social Center. This was Albania’s first shelter for trafficking victims. The shelter provides residential services, but also legal services, psychological counseling, training, and employment assistance. When USAID agreed to fund her organization in 2013, they estimated that she had helped over 1600 girls and women victims of trafficking. She continues this work today, and was given a Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award in 2009 in recognition of her efforts to combat modern-day slavery.
In the 2014 TIP Report, Albania was listed as a Tier 2 country. It is a source and a destination country for both forced labor and sex trafficking. Fraudulent recruitment often lures Albanian women and girls abroad and into sex-trafficking situations. Internal trafficking for sexual purposes is also a problem. While victim identification is improving, Albania needs to focus on prosecuting offenders.