And now, a new book review.
‘My name is not Natasha’ - How Albanian Women in France Use Trafficking to Overcome Social Exclusion (1998-2001)
written by John Davies (Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2009)
You can download it here:
I have read this book from start to finish. John Davies has thoroughly researched several dozens of Albanian prostitutes who work the streets of Lyon, in the period between 1998 and 2001. Although it doesn’t pertain to prostitution in the Netherlands, it could give some basic ideas how at least some forced prostitution works. There never have been many Albanian prostitutes in the Netherlands, but in Belgium close by, there have been a great number there, and Patsy Sörensen and Chris de Stoop can attest to that.
The research methods of John Davies are daring, you might even wonder if he shouldn’t have warned the police more often, but because the local police often treat the women very badly (seeing them mainly as illegal immigrants who should be expelled as soon as possible), he made the decision not to involve them too much.
The research by John Davies is unique in its kind in that I have never read about a researcher who has so closely and so thoroughly followed a group of women who were clearly being coerced or heavily emotionally manipulated to work in prostitution. Mostly stories by forced prostitutes are told after the ordeal was over, and there is no verification by other sources. So, basically, how painful that may seem, everybody can make up a story how he or she was forced to work in prostitution in the past. The case has even been made that prostitutes simply tell these stories because they are so ashamed that they do this work that they tell others they have been forced to do this, or that jealous prostitutes denounce their adulterous boyfriend to the police as human traffickers.
But John Davies’ research is different. He could follow the prostitutes over a long period of time, and while talking to the women he could also back up their stories, most importantly by also interviewing the men who escorted the women. And what the women tell and what the men tell doesn’t contradict each other.
John Davies divides the women into two groups. The ‘married’ women, and the ‘divorced’ women (it must be noted that married and divorced in Albania doesn’t necessarily mean that this happened officially).
The married women and their relationship with their lovers looks a lot like what we in the Netherlands call the relationship between some Dutch prostitutes and their ‘loverboys’. The women often believe that they will build a future together with their lovers by working in prostitution, not knowing or realizing that they have been tricked and that their lover spends the money on other things like gambling and cars and that he hangs out with other women or even has other women working in prostitution for him, who also believe that they are building up a future with him by working in prostitution. It is striking that John Davies explains this phenomenon by pointing towards the patriarchal culture in Albania which only appoints a certain status to a woman within a married relationship with a man, and in which violence is seen as normal. In this, prostitution was seen by the Albanian women as merely fulfilling the legitimate purpose of providing for the needs of the family. The men could use a system of control where they let the women keep an eye on each other and report news to them. This control was very effective, the men didn’t have to be with the women 100% of the time. I have heard and read about this system used by pimps. It could also explain why you see relatively so few suspicious men in the window prostitution areas in the Netherlands, although it could be that they monitor the women from indoors or by walking around and acting like tourists or clients.
The divorced women are somewhat older women who became socially excluded in Albania, mainly because of their divorce and consequent expulsion by the family. These women wanted to escape this situation by leaving Albania by every means possible. These women heard about Albanian women who were forced to work in prostitution abroad, and so they reasoned, if that’s the way to leave Albania than this is a reasonable solution, so they approached human traffickers. Generally these women hope to eventually escape the human traffickers and find a local man that they can marry. I believe that these women turn the whole idea of consent on its head. You would think that nobody consents to be exploited in forced labour or be tortured or raped, but it turns out that if one is desperate everything goes. The control that the men had over the divorced women was not as strong compared to the married women, because the women didn’t trust these men in the first place. Usually they worked on a 50%-50% contract basis. John Davies explains (on page 68) that:
the per cent contract was a bonded-labour contract supposedly agreed to for a certain period of time. However, the contracts were subject to varied reinterpretation by the [men], who would often demand extortionate interest on sums supposedly owed because minimum payments had not been made. The [men] would also demand extension of the contracts if they arbitrarily decided that they had not received adequate compensation during the agreed period of the contract. As such the non-wives were clearly being constrained into a forced labour situation, which made them trafficked people; the wives did not have such contracts as their remittances to the [men] were dictated by the obligation conditional to their marriage.John Davies noticed that in the beginning of his research, the married women were in the majority. But the women slowly realized their situation, that they were merely being tricked, and they slowly set themselves free from these men. Gradually divorced women exceeded the married women in numbers.
It is difficult to say if the Albanian women researched by John Davies are representative to all forced prostitutes. I hear an echo in a TAMPEP report (TAMPEP – final report – June 95/June 96) of a long time ago. I like to quote extensively from that TAMPEP-report (this quote pertaining to mainly window prostitution areas in the Netherlands):
The women are brought up in a traditional patriarchal society where the man is the dominant factor. At the same time, communism has given women the opportunity and access to a higher education. In fact, in Poland for example, there are more women with a tertiary education than men. So, if the financial need arises, they often take the initiative to look for new chances, but due to the poor economic state of their home countries, many of the more ambitious women leave for the West and consequently end up in the sex-business because prostitutes are always in high demand everywhere. At the same time, the women stay psychologically dependent upon men, because their emancipation is not a result of a long process of gaining independence and becoming self-assertive but actually restricts itself only to the professional field. This is why Polish, Ukrainian and Russian women are almost always in the power of pimps (in most cases their own countrymen) and why they so often depend upon others to the extent that they become victims of trafficking or other forms of exploitation by these men.John Davies’ study shows there is some truth in the idea that human trafficking is caused by governments treating immigrants as criminals. So perhaps the social exclusion can be lessened by legalizing immigration, which could weaken the grip of people who want to exploit immigrants.
Another reason why the East European women are so often victims of trafficking is their total naïvetée and blindness. It seems that these persons did not have much opportunity to develop any self-defence mechanism. The housing shortage forces many youngsters to stay with their parents, thus blocking the way to independence. This way they lead overprotected lives and may not be able to experience the harsh facts of their culture. [you can see a more complete quote in the post about Eastern European prostitutes]
More discoveries: Albanian women falsely claiming to be Kosovar refugees and thus gaining status as asylum seekers. And, real victims of human trafficking making up stories of human trafficking and then denouncing a fictitious pimp to the police! And, victims of human trafficking wanting to avoid special shelters for victims of human trafficking because they want to avoid being known as prostitutes.
I can end my book review by citing endless quotes, but everyone can download the book for free anyway, so read it ..... and weep (!).
I catch myself that I seem happy after reading this book. I was right all along! (or there is a tacit believe within me that women can never choose to work in prostitution or like sex in the first place)
So, after all, there is human trafficking, even after extensive research on a specific group of prostitutes. I think that John Davies’ could also fully explain once again why victims of human trafficking are hardly found by police inspectors and researchers. The simple answer is: the prostitutes see the human traffickers as their friends, so, obviously they won’t denounce them or tell bad stories about them .... after a one-hour interview.
But I knew this all along.