The government maintained victim protection efforts. It provided assistance primarily to girls subjected to sex trafficking; services remained inadequate overall. Immigration officials continued efforts to identify possible trafficking victims in border regions; however, the government lacked formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including individuals in commercial sex. In 2016, the government reported identifying 53 sex trafficking victims, an increase from 49 victims identified in 2015, but a decrease from 87 victims identified in 2014. Those identified included 18 women and 35 girls; 48 were Salvadoran and five were from other Latin American countries. Authorities did not identify any forced labor victims in 2016 or 2015, compared with three in 2014.
During the year, the government developed two immediate response teams to coordinate victim assistance and referral and formulated a protocol on the care of trafficking victims. The government maintained a budget of $270,000 for victim assistance in 2016. The government offered no specialized services or shelter to boys, adults, or LGBTI victims, although NGOs and officials reported these populations needed shelter, rehabilitation, and mental health services. The government shelter for girl sex trafficking victims offered psychological and medical care to 15 victims in 2016. The government provided shelter in a Migrant Attention Center to three adult female victims identified by immigration officials, but 15 adult female victims did not receive services. Throughout the investigation and intake process, residents of the center were required to recount their trafficking experience multiple times to various government entities, highlighting a lack of interagency coordination and leading to re-traumatization. There were few long-term support or reintegration services available for victims, leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking. Authorities made efforts to screen for trafficking indicators among Salvadorans returned from abroad and repatriated Salvadoran victims could be referred to services and the police to investigate their cases, but the government did not report doing so in 2016.
The judicial system’s inexperience with trafficking cases, overreliance on victim testimony, and threats of reprisal from traffickers undermined the effectiveness of the judicial system’s response to trafficking. Judges in criminal courts could order civil compensation awards in trafficking cases; however, victims had to work through the civil courts to receive payment. In 2016, no sentences included such compensation. The government reported having procedures to protect victims’ identities in court and allow for victims to provide testimony via teleconference, but did not report using these procedures. Identified trafficking victims generally were not charged, jailed, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. However, due to the lack of a formal mechanism to screen vulnerable populations, some unidentified victims may have been punished for such crimes. Furthermore, civil society organizations reported the government treated as criminals children forced to engage in illicit activity by criminal groups, rather than providing them protection as trafficking victims. The 2014 trafficking law provides foreign trafficking victims the right to seek residency status, which would allow them to work legally, but no victims had received such benefits.