The government maintained efforts to identify victims, but increased efforts to counsel and shelter victims. The prosecution service, based on open pre-trial investigations in 2016, identified 329 victims of sex trafficking, 31 victims of labor trafficking, and five victims of both sex and labor trafficking, compared with 298 sex trafficking and 32 labor trafficking victims identified in 2015. Twenty-one of the identified victims were children (30 in 2015). One victim identified during the year was from Burkina Faso, whereas no foreign victims were identified in 2015. Observers alleged law enforcement could not effectively identify victims, particularly foreign victims. Reports indicated police did not proactively search for signs of trafficking among women detained for prostitution, and prosecutors and judges lacked sensitivity when interacting with sex trafficking victims. The government updated its written procedures for referring victims to care facilities, making it compulsory for all government institutions. Local authorities in one region trained more than 130 police and government officials on victim identification and assistance. Throughout the reporting period, the government jointly conducted training on identification, protection, assistance, and prosecution for judiciary officials, law enforcement, and social workers, holding more than 30 events with more than 1,000 attendees. The law accords victims anonymity during the pre-trial and trial phases, but authorities rarely implemented this provision, resulting in victims changing their statements out of fear, intimidation, and bribery. Observers noted many victims did not cooperate with law enforcement because they did not believe the judicial system would effectively administer justice and perpetrators would serve meaningful sentences. Authorities did not consistently inform victims of their rights, including the right to legal aid. Observers reported police investigators interviewed victims three to four times during the pre-trial stage, a practice that could re-traumatize victims. Observers also reported victims lacked support during criminal cases, as the state reportedly did not provide knowledgeable legal counsel during trials. Victims were often required to give testimony in the presence of the alleged trafficker, and it was common practice for alleged traffickers to confront their victims in court and question them through the judge, including inquiries into victims’ previous sexual relationships.
The government spent approximately 83,100 lev ($44,774) for services and implementation of the annual national anti-trafficking and victim protection program. Observers urged more state funding for anti-trafficking activities, reporting most of the funding came from NGOs and international donors. The government provided two NGO-operated centers offering consultative services for trafficking victims, and three NGO-operated shelters offering residential-type services to female victims with a total capacity of up to 16 people. None of the shelters were located in Sofia, the largest city and most common repatriation point for victims exploited abroad. In 2016, 22 crisis centers offered social services to children and women victims of violence, including trafficking, up from 16 in 2015. The centers provided support, counseling, and accommodations to nearly 60 trafficking victims, including 36 minors. Several NGOs asserted, however, child trafficking victims did not receive support separately from victims of violence at the centers, despite their different needs. The national commission drafted mandatory social services standards for protecting and assisting trafficking victims, and adopted guidelines for crisis center workers caring for minors. The government provided crisis centers a fixed sum per victim assisted which, according to the state agency for child protection, was insufficient to cover victims’ needs, maintain the centers’ premises, and attract qualified staff. In 2016, an international organization and the commission provided humanitarian, healthcare, social, counseling, and legal services to 44 adult male trafficking victims. Foreign partner organizations referred three of the victims to authorities; eight received accommodations in specialized protected healthcare facilities, private lodgings, or hotels. The commission noted male trafficking victims mainly benefited from and applied for counseling services and were reluctant to make use of residential accommodation services. The law allows foreign victims who cooperate with law enforcement to stay and work in Bulgaria for the duration of criminal proceedings before deportation, although no foreign victims had applied for this status. Foreign victims who choose not to assist in trafficking investigations are permitted to remain in Bulgaria for 40 days for recovery before repatriation; the recovery period for foreign child victims is 70 days. The government did not penalize trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. No victims received compensation during the reporting period; observers reported the process for seeking compensation continued to be overly bureaucratic and discouraged victims from making claims.