The government maintained efforts in victim protection. The government identified 49 trafficking victims (36 in 2015). Of these, 29 were victims of sex trafficking, seven of forced labor, one for forced begging, one of forced criminality, and 11 of multiple types of exploitation. In 2015, 21 victims were subjected to sex trafficking, three to forced labor, ten to forced begging, and two to forced criminality. In 2016, 21 victims were children, compared to 22 in 2015. The Center for Protection of Trafficking Victims (CPTV) reported the majority of identified victims were Serbian citizens exploited in Serbia. CPTV reported Serbian victims exploited and identified abroad and foreign nationals exploited abroad but identified in Serbia. The government did not provide information on funds allocated for victim protection in 2016. In 2015, the government budgeted 19.7 million Serbian dinars ($168,330) for the operation of the CPTV.
The government did not have formal victim identification procedures and used an outdated national referral mechanism (NRM) to refer victims to support services. Observers reported the NRM lacked established roles and responsibilities. First responders referred potential victims to CPTV, which officially identified victims. First responders referred 150 potential victims to CPTV (106 in 2015); the government referred 81, social welfare organizations referred 42, and NGOs and international organizations referred 27. The government reported approximately 100,000 migrants and refugees transited Serbia in 2016. Authorities identified two migrants as trafficking victims; however, NGOs suspected many more victims remained unidentified. Observers reported CPTV staff lacked proper resources to travel to the location of potential victims and interview them in person. CPTV designed and distributed checklists of trafficking indicators and trained 630 first responders on them. CPTV trained 120 education professionals on identifying child victims. However, observers reported law enforcement in charge of investigating prostitution-related offenses received limited to no training on victim identification.
CPTV had two units, the protection agency and the urgent reception center; however, for the fourth consecutive year the urgent reception center, designed to provide safe shelter and services, was not functional. An NGO-run shelter remained the only specialized shelter for female trafficking victims; local centers for social work operated shelters for domestic violence victims that accommodated female trafficking victims. The government reported child victims were returned to their families, referred to foster care, or provided shelter in one of the two Centers for Children without Parental Care; however, observers reported CPTV lacked specific procedures for child trafficking victims. For example, the questionnaire used in the identification process was not adapted to children and children often did not understand the questions. Observers reported there were no child-friendly premises for interviews and majority of social workers did not receive specific training on working with children. In previous years, government social welfare centers lacked the ability to remove children from their families, even if there was evidence the family had exploited the child. Male victims did not have access to a dedicated trafficking shelter, but an NGO rented accommodation as needed and male victims could access all other rehabilitation services offered to female victims. CPTV assessed each victim for individual needs and developed a protection and assistance plan. The government and NGOs provided psycho-social, legal, education, medical, financial, and reintegration support; however, the government did not have procedures outlining cooperation between CPTV and NGOs on victim services. NGOs and international organizations provided assistance to 28 of the 49 trafficking victims. Centers for social work provided social services, but they often lacked the specialized programs, sensitivity, and trained staff necessary for working with trafficking victims.
Victims’ ability to access support services and assistance was not contingent on cooperating with law enforcement investigations; however, once a case was reported to police, authorities required victims to cooperate with investigations and testify during prosecution. NGOs reported some victims were threatened with prosecution for non-cooperation. Experts continued to report authorities did not adequately protect victims’ rights during lengthy court proceedings and victims frequently had to appear in front of their traffickers; traffickers often threatened or intimidated victims. Observers reported the length of trials and assistance provided to victims depended on the individual prosecutor or judge. Judges did not assign the status of “especially vulnerable witness” to trafficking victims. This status allows witnesses to testify without the defendant present and allows testimony via video link. The law entitles victims to file criminal and civil suits against their traffickers for restitution, but judges continued to encourage victims to seek restitution solely by filing civil suits. Civil suits were lengthy, expensive, and required the victim to face the abuser numerous times; no victims received restitution in 2016. The government provided foreign victims temporary residence permits renewable up to one year; two victims received residence permits in 2016. Observers reported the government did not uniformly apply non-penalization principles for trafficking victims; however, CPTV provided guidelines to prosecutors and judges on non-penalization of trafficking victims.