Dr. Muftic Finds “Other Home” in Bosnia/Herzegovina

Dr. Muftic and her husband in Sarajevo
Dr. Muftic and her husband in Sarajevo.

As a junior in college, Dr. Lisa Muftic was introduced to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) through an older gentlemen who had recently resettled in the U.S. from the war-torn country. That meeting would have a profound effect on her personal life and professional career.

The man’s roommate, also a war refugee who served as her interpreter, eventually became her husband and father of their three children. Her passion about the country, ignited by that chance encounter, led to research opportunities abroad and a Fulbright Scholarship with the University of Sarajevo. As a scholar, she studied criminal justice issues, including intimate partner violence, human trafficking, and police training and attitudes in BiH.

Dr. Muftic with her children along the Buna River.
Dr. Muftic with her children along the Buna River.
“I fell in love with that part of the world,” said Dr. Muftic, who has visited the country almost every year since 1997. “It’s my other home. I love the people, the rich culture and history, and the country’s incredible beauty. The first time I went there, there was still so much destruction from the war, but there was also profound natural beauty.”

Muftic’s interest in BiH started at North Dakota State University while a serving an internship as a volunteer with the Refugee Resettlement Program. The program served many displaced by the war, which erupted among ethnic groups following the country’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. When she asked her future husband or others about the causes of the war, they were unable – or unwilling – to speak about it. Led by a professor who had visited the area in the 1970s, she began an independent study on the causes of the war which eventually led into her work as a master’s student.

A group of criminal justice students in BiH.A group of criminal justice students in BiH
"With interest in intimate partner violence, human trafficking, and international criminal justice issues, she began doing research in the country, often comparing the trends between BiH and the United States. She published many studies on these issues in American and European academic journals and has others in the pipeline.

While a doctoral student, Dr. Muftic compared intimate partner violence experienced by Bosnian women who relocated to the U.S., comparing them to those who remained in their native country. While the study showed no differences in victimization and perpetration among the two groups of women, in the U.S., the Bosnian women tended to be more conservative on the issue and conformed more to traditional gender roles.

Dr. Muftic studied the underground human trafficking sex trade in BiH.
Dr. Muftic studied the underground human trafficking sex trade in BiH.
“It could be that (Bosnian) women (in the U.S.) were clinging more to tradition, and displacement was a major stressor,” said Dr. Muftic.

While in the field collecting data for a second research project related to domestic violence in the country, Dr. Muftic visited one of two domestic violence shelters. Rather than finding victims of intimate partner violence, she found the shelter was full of human trafficking victims. This finding led to her current research which focuses on criminal justice responses to the offense since the end of the war.

After the war, many international forces were in the country to help it rebuild and foreign women were smuggled in from Europe and Asia to serve those populations. While foreigners only accounted for 30 percent of the customer base, they represented 70 percent of profits. After the country stabilized and prostitution crackdowns began, the industry changed and the practice was driven underground. Today Bosnian women and girls represent the majority of trafficking victims and locals comprise the majority of traffickers, pimps, and clientele.

Dr. Muftic and University of Sarajevo students.
Dr. Muftic and University of Sarajevo students.
“There are less women being rescued now and less receiving services,” Dr. Muftic said. “This doesn’t mean, however, that trafficking isn’t taking place. It has just become harder to detect.”

After the war, there was a movement in BiH to professionalize the police. Interested in the impact training had on police response to gender based violence, Dr. Muftic measured police officers’ responses and attitudes toward domestic violence and human trafficking. She found that training resulted in less negative attitudes to reports of intimate partner violence and a greater likelihood of intervention. Because the police are first line responders in such cases, these findings have important policy implications as to the importance of training and education for law enforcement.

Dr. Muftic compares victim and policing issues in the U.S. and BiH.
Dr. Muftic compares victim and policing issues in the U.S. and BiH.
During the 2012-2013 academic year, Muftic was a Fulbright Scholar and visiting faculty member at the University of Sarajevo. While continuing her research, she also mentored several undergraduate students with an interest in advancing their knowledge about criminal justice issues. Working with these students – along with other colleagues in the criminal justice field – she expanded her research to include electronic monitoring, the death penalty, and the use of criminological theory to predict delinquency in the country. She also has introduced graduate students at Sam Houston State University to her research efforts.

“I think because of the situation in Bosnia, many of the students see education as a way to be successful,” said Dr. Muftic. “Many were looking to advanced degrees. It was a small group but it was fun to have a group of students who were really proactive about their education. I am really proud of the relationship that we have forged. I learned as much from them as they did from me; maybe more!”

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