Latvia is a source and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and a source country for women, men, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Latvian women are forced into prostitution in Italy, Ireland, Cyprus, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany. Latvian men and women have been subjected to conditions of forced labor in the United Kingdom and Italy, and there were reports that Latvian men may have been subjected to forced labor in Germany, Netherlands, Cyprus, Spain, and Sweden. Latvian women in brokered marriages in Western Europe, particularly Ireland, were vulnerable to domestic servitude and sex trafficking. Adult Latvian women are subject to sex trafficking within Latvia. NGOs report that Latvian children were engaged in sex trafficking within Latvia; Latvian children are also vulnerable to child sex tourism in Latvia. Unemployed adults, single women, people raised in state-run institutions, and individuals with mental disabilities remain vulnerable to trafficking in persons. Latvian trafficking victims were recruited into exploitation through employment recruitment companies, social-networking websites, and local connections.
The Government of Latvia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The Latvian government improved victim protection by certifying a greater number and diversity of trafficking victims. The government also increased both the funding for and duration of trafficking victim services. Latvian officials began implementing labor victim identification regulations, but did not initiate new labor trafficking investigations. An international report concluded that proactive victim identification within the country was insufficient. Law enforcement efforts remained the Government of Latvia’s weakest area in addressing trafficking in persons. Even though victim identification increased significantly, Latvian officials investigated or prosecuted very few cases under the anti-trafficking statute. Of the offenders convicted of trafficking, Latvian courts sentenced only a few to prison terms.
Recommendations for Latvia: Greatly increase investigations, prosecutions, and convictions in human trafficking cases; impose criminal penalties on convicted trafficking offenders commensurate with the gravity of the crime committed; use the trafficking statute (Section 154-1 of the Latvian criminal Law) to prosecute trafficking cases involving Latvian victims exploited abroad and domestically; increase efforts to identify victims proactively, particularly victims of labor trafficking and Latvian victims exploited within the country; explore ways to collaborate more closely with other European counterparts so that Latvia is empowered to better protect Latvian trafficking victims abroad and to prosecute their recruiters; ensure that all victims of trafficking, including male victims, receive appropriate accommodation; explore options for long-term victim reintegration; continue to implement new labor trafficking identification guidelines; continue to educate prosecutors and judges about human trafficking and victims’ rights to reduce prejudice in trial; continue to implement the recently designed repatriation mechanism to make state-funded trafficking victim assistance more accessible; continue efforts to ensure that all victims of trafficking are provided appropriate protections throughout the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses; continue implementing the 2009-2013 National Anti-Trafficking Program; consider centralizing government anti-trafficking hotlines to enhance trafficking prevention and identification of trafficking victims; update key outreach efforts, such as the government’s centralized anti-trafficking website; continue efforts to systematically monitor trafficking trends; continue promoting trafficking education at schools and increase involvement of NGOs in that training; and increase efforts to raise awareness about both sex and labor trafficking.
The Government of Latvia maintained weak law enforcement efforts against trafficking in persons, investigating and prosecuting few cases under its anti-trafficking statute during the reporting period. Latvia prohibits all forms of trafficking through Section 154-1 and 154-2 of its criminal law, which prescribe penalties ranging from a fine to 15 years’ imprisonment—penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Latvian government amended Sections 154-1 and 154-2 in 2012 to harmonize these statutes with the EU anti-trafficking Directive 2011/36/EU. However, the government continued to use Section 165-1 prohibiting the transfer of individuals for the purpose of sexual exploitation to investigate and prosecute most trafficking cases during the reporting period, claiming that offenses were easier to prove under this law than the trafficking statute. The Council of Europe’s GRETA Report noted that the over-reliance on Section 165-1 to prosecute trafficking offenders may contribute to negative stereotypes about sex trafficking victims. Although the Latvian government claimed that human trafficking declined in Latvia, the Office of the Prosecutor General confirmed that the police lacked the human resources necessary for extensive and sophisticated investigations into trafficking cases. Reports also concluded that Latvian court procedures were lengthy and stalled anti-trafficking efforts. Reports noted that trials in Latvia were difficult for trafficking victims because of repeated interviews and prejudice by judges displayed toward trafficking victims. While the number of trafficking witnesses cooperating with law enforcement increased from 29 in 2011 to 37 in 2012, only seven victims agreed to assist law enforcement during the reporting period. The Latvian government trained officers on human trafficking in a variety of formats. For example, the State Police College offered an investigation course to 142 law enforcement staff members and the Latvian Judicial Training Center briefed 40 prosecutors and 23 candidates for prosecutor positions.
The government reported investigating 17 suspected offenders in 16 new sex trafficking cases, a decrease from 34 offenders in 21 cases in 2011. The government investigated three of these cases under Section 154-1—cases involving sex trafficking to Germany and Cyprus—an increase from 2011, when the government did not initiate any investigations under Section 154-1. Despite NGO reports of labor trafficking to various European countries, the Latvian government did not initiate any labor trafficking investigations in 2012. Latvian authorities prosecuted 12 defendants in 2012, a decrease from 27 defendants prosecuted in 2011; a continued decrease from 39 defendants prosecuted in 2010. Latvian officials charged one defendant under Section 154-1; officials charged the remaining defendants under Section 165-1. In 2012, 19 traffickers received final convictions, including two under Section 154-1, an increase from the 11 who received final convictions in 2011. These figures do not include appealed convictions. As in previous years, Latvian courts sentenced only a few of these traffickers to prison terms. Only three of the 19 convicted traffickers were sentenced to time in prison: two for prison terms of up to three years and one for a prison term of over ten years. The remaining defendants received conditional sentences or a fine. In 2011, two offenders were sentenced to prison terms. Latvian officials extradited two Latvian nationals to Belgium and one Latvian national to the United Kingdom to face trial in sex trafficking cases and collaborated with colleagues in Germany, Greece, the United Kingdom, and Spain to investigate cases involving Latvian victims. Latvian officials prosecuted two alleged cases of trafficking-related complicity in 2012, including one former anti-trafficking police officer tried and convicted for pimping and one former anti-trafficking police officer charged with extortion and other crimes; the prosecution was ongoing at the close of the reporting period. In a third case, officials charged a “sworn attorney” with facilitating trafficking in persons.
The Latvian government continued to improve its victim protection efforts during the year by increasing the number and diversity of the victims identified and referred to care, increasing the funding provided for certified trafficking victims, and adapting its victim certification procedures to allow Latvian victims to certify while physically outside of Latvia. Nevertheless, proactive victim identification within the country remained weak, and bureaucratic problems with the funding and contracting of victim service provision delayed care. In 2012, the government authorized the equivalent of approximately $126,000 for trafficking victim services, a significant increase from the equivalent of approximately $58,000 in 2011. The government-funded NGO offered every trafficking victim psychological assistance, medical aid, legal representation, housing, and reintegration services. Over the past three years, the funding for victim services has doubled. The increase in funding corresponded to an increase in victim identification and expansion of services offered. The Latvian government certified 25 trafficking victims in 2012, more than double the 11 victims that it certified in 2011; the government funded care for 30 victims in total, including some of those identified in 2011. Twenty-five of the victims receiving care were adult females; five victims were male. One was a victim of domestic sex trafficking. All identified victims were Latvian. During the reporting period, the government extended its victim assistance program to include services for testifying victims and witnesses throughout the entire course of a criminal prosecution, an increase from the prior term of up to six months; all victims and their minor children not benefitting from the prosecution assistance provision were entitled to additional five counseling sessions after completing the rehabilitation program. The government-funded NGO did not operate its own shelter, but collaborated with shelters throughout Latvia to provide services.
Officials from the state police and diplomatic corps referred 22 out of the 30 trafficking victims receiving assistance. The GRETA Report observed, however, that proactive identification by Latvian police within the country remained weak; foreign law enforcement agencies initially referred the majority of the victims to the Latvian state police. The government improved its efforts to identify victims proactively by implementing the 2012 guidance on identifying labor trafficking. In the course of these procedures, the State Labor Inspectorate identified three potential domestic labor trafficking cases and referred those cases to law enforcement; ultimately, law enforcement officials did not confirm human trafficking in any of those cases. The State Inspectorate for Protection of Children’s Rights identified one suspected trafficking case involving a minor. Members of the Latvian diplomatic corps made active use of the Council of Baltic Sea States’ guidelines for trafficking victim identification at embassies and participated in the victim certification process from abroad. The Latvian Ministry of Welfare trained 83 social services staff members on how to identify trafficking cases involving females. The State Border Guards also reportedly employed procedures to identify trafficking victims among immigrant workers in Latvia, including those employed in hotels and construction sites, but did not identify any trafficking victims during spot inspections.
The government reported that it encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations and prosecutions by providing witness protection, digital video-enabled courtrooms, and by exempting victims from attending court hearings. Nevertheless, NGOs noted that officials failed to gain victims’ trust or to explain the dangers facing the victims during trial, leaving many reluctant to report to or cooperate with law enforcement. The Latvian government had a residence permit provision available for foreign trafficking victims during reflection periods and for the duration of a criminal trial; however, none of the identified victims during the reporting period were foreign. In order to comply with EU Directive 2011/36/EU, the government amended Section 58 of Latvia’s criminal law to specify that trafficking victims were not liable for criminal offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Nevertheless, NGOs reported that one trafficking victim was charged with pimping.
The Latvian government extended its anti-trafficking prevention activities by increasing involvement of the diplomatic corps in anti-trafficking prevention and other measures. Nevertheless, NGOs and the GRETA report stressed the need for continuous, government-funded anti-trafficking awareness campaigns throughout the country. The diplomatic corps, particularly the Latvian embassy in Ireland, was active in anti-trafficking prevention, including greeting Latvian arrivals at the airport in Dublin to offer them information about trafficking, reaching out to orphanages’ principals to explain trafficking, and participating in awareness-raising events at a tourism show. The Ministry of Education and Science continued to incorporate anti-trafficking messages into school curriculum and training, but NGOs were not closely involved in the effort. Several Latvian local governments engaged in awareness raising campaigns, including training, brochures, and mock recruiting interviews to educate youth about risky work abroad; some of these campaigns received private or foreign funding. The anti-trafficking working group continued to meet to coordinate the government’s anti-trafficking activities, alongside civil society members. The government continued to maintain various hotlines for the exchange of trafficking information with the general public, but it did not have a centralized hotline. It was not clear that the various government hotlines were effective in publicizing their anti-trafficking role. NGOs that did not receive state funding for anti-trafficking prevention efforts received more than 115 telephone inquiries on trafficking-related matters. The Latvian government took steps to prevent human trafficking by addressing brokered marriages through awareness efforts and new legislation. The Latvian government reported problems collaborating with some Western European governments, including Ireland, to prevent this exploitation. The GRETA Report concluded that the Latvian authorities’ efforts to reduce demand for the services of trafficking victims were inadequate. The MOI reported investigating and prosecuting a child sex tourism case with foreign defendants. The Latvian Ministry of Defense trained military personnel assigned to missions abroad on identifying trafficking cases and preventing trafficking.