This morning I woke to the news that a 36-year-old woman had been shot and murdered by her husband Alket Arapi in Tirana. Yesterday I followed the news of policeman Berhan Bajrakurti from Shkodra who was arrested for sexually harassing and molesting a 15-year-old girl. The day before, I was marching through Tirana to protest against the gang rape of an underage girl in Kavaja, and the failure of the police, educators, media, and government to treat the matter with any modicum of due process.
What will happen tomorrow?
Last year in Albania, around 4000 court protection orders were issued for women against their intimate partners, yet despite this, 16 women were murdered, and thousands more suffered violence and harassment at the hands of men. Statistics from the UN show that up to 50% of Albanian women will suffer domestic violence at least once, and that a staggering 10% will be forced into a marriage before they are 18 years old.
Is this 2019 or 1819?
Why is it that in this day and age, we are unable to offer even the most basic level of protection for women and girls in this country? Multiple protests have been organised in Tirana, marching on the ministry of education and the police directorate to demand more action in preventing and handling instances of violence yet nothing seems to change.
But the media is no better – reporting on these murders as “crimes of passion”, naming and identifying victims, comparing bloody slayings to “Romeo and Juliet”, and even stoking up victim blaming through suggestive and problematic language – I just cannot understand how people can be so clueless and hateful as to treat victims in this way.
Right now, if a woman or girl is violated in Albania, there is little legal recourse available to her. First of all, her family are likely to not to want to take action due to the “shame” it brings upon them. If she approaches the police, she is often dismissed or given a protection order that is never enforced. If of course, her assailant is someone connected, politically active, or rich, they will never face a single consequence as I have heard numerous instances of cases being dropped when the accused pays a certain amount of money.
When these topics come up over coffee or amongst colleagues, the attitude is very much “oh well, that is how it is here – welcome to Albania”, and it shocks me at the social normalisation of the lack of action. It is widely known that the police and/or state will do little to intervene and most accept that even contacting the police is likely to make the situation worse.
One case that springs to mind was the case of an Australian woman who has been living in Albania for a number of years. She had been beaten in her sleep by her ex partner and had reported the incident immediately, whilst covered in blood, to the police. After leaving the police station she received sexually suggestive messages from the police officer that had taken her statement. Despite her ex partner admitting what he did, the case was dismissed from court and he continues to stalk and harass her to this day.
But how did we get here? And why do people just not care about what is going on behind closed doors in this country? I am not going to suggest that femicide, inequality and domestic violence is not an issue anywhere else, and I can tell you from experience that the judiciary and police can be just as corrupt and careless even in EU countries, but the situation in Albania seems to be getting worse with every day that passes.
Time and time again, politics and the reputations of abusers is coming before women who have been violated. We are dehumanising these attacks to the point where the plight of the victim is forgotten completely amidst the political and media mudslinging. These cases should not be exploited in any way other than to decry what has happened and to call for change.
Then you have the comments on social media – one commentator replied to an article about Sunday’s march by saying that women need to be held accountable as well. I’m sorry, what? How on earth does one hold a raped child or a murdered woman accountable? The only person that has any level of accountability in these cases is firstly the perpetrator, and secondly the authorities and the government.
There are many ways to improve this situation, most of which start with education. In schools, police stations, government institutions, and responsible media platforms people need to be taught what constitutes as violence and why it is not ok. We need to hammer home the fact that women and girls are humans, not property or lesser beings, and we need to push for greater equality between the sexes in every town, village, and city of this country. The media needs to be trained on how to report on such cases- including proper teaching of ethical and journalistic standards and ensuring they know the law on naming victims. Action also needs to be taken against those on social media who threaten and harass women and men need to be taught to respect women and that no means no.
Mothers need to stop bringing up entitled and aggressive brats, and fathers need to stop beating their wives in front of their children, and acting with aggression, bravado and other elements of toxic masculinity. Gender roles and stereotypes need to be eradicated and women need to be given full autonomy and rights over their lives. There should be no more asking for permission to leave the house, no more segregation in coffee shops, and no more treating women like they are just there to have babies and cook dinner whilst the husband does what he likes.
The police and judicial system needs a full shake down, corruption needs to be eradicated, and those accepting bribes to drop charges need to be ousted without hesitation. A sense of urgency needs to be instilled in those that remain, to ensure that these cases are treated with the respect and urgency that they deserve and with immediacy.
As a soon to be mother of a half-Albanian girl that will grow up here, it terrifies me to think that she will live in a place where her life is not considered equal to that of a man. It scares me that if, heaven forbid, she found herself as a victim, the reputation and life of her attacker would be put first.
We need to teach the men, the women, the police, the politicians, the media, and the public of this country that boys will not be boys, and that boys need to be held accountable for their actions.