The government maintained efforts to protect victims. In 2016, the government identified 32 victims (25 in 2015). NGOs identified an additional 13 victims. Of the 45 total victims identified, 25 of their cases resulted in police investigations; 18 were female, including three underage girls, and 27 were male, including five underage boys; and four were foreign citizens. Experts criticized the government for lacking reliable data on the prevalence of foreign trafficking victims in Slovakia. Some NGOs continued to criticize the government’s victim care program for placing too high a burden of proof on the victim, impeding access to care services, and allowing too much discretion by law enforcement to decide whether a potential victim can enroll in the program. Of the 45 victims, 21 entered the government-funded victim care program in 2016 (25 of 28 total victims in 2015 and 34 of 41 total victims in 2014). In 2016, the government provided €221,617 ($233,530) to three NGOS for the protection of trafficking victims, including repatriation assistance, compared to €212,927 ($224,370) in 2015 and €225,100 ($237,200) in 2014. This funding covered the support and care of victims, voluntary return of victims, and the national trafficking hotline. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Interior allocated €95,000 ($100,110) in grants for projects addressing trafficking issues, the same amount as in 2015.
NGOs provided victims shelter and care services, including financial support, repatriation to Slovakia, healthcare, psycho-social support, and legal and interpretation services. Shelters for domestic violence victims housed trafficking victims separately. There were limited accommodations for victims with families. Child trafficking victims could be accommodated in government-run children’s homes or an NGO-run crisis home for children; six children entered into the care program in 2016. Whether the government’s system to refer identified victims to protection services can be considered unified remained unclear, but some government institutions had procedures to refer victims to the National Coordinator or care facilities. An NGO won a Supreme Court appeal against a 2014 government decision not to enroll a Vietnamese migrant in the care program, who the NGO suspected of being a trafficking victim. The Court concluded that the victim should be able to appeal its decision not to enroll the victim into the care program directly with the government. The government did not adequately identify foreign trafficking victims, with NGOs reporting authorities did not properly identify potential victims among migrants or refer them to services because it encouraged them to take advantage of assisted voluntary return. Border police did not always proactively screen migrants for indicators of trafficking, despite having received numerous victim identification trainings. The Slovak Embassy in London reported 11 trafficking cases of Slovak victims during 2016 (none in 2015 and 151 in 2014). The Slovak Embassy in London assisted potential trafficking victims through local NGOs.
All victims were eligible for up to 180 days of care support. Slovak law allows foreign victims to seek employment, but due to uncertain length of their tolerated residency status while participating in an investigation, employers were reluctant to hire foreign victims. Limited funding for legal representation impaired foreign victims’ ability to justify their cases for temporary residency. Moreover, experts noted lawyers provided by the government may not have relevant experience and knowledge to handle trafficking cases. The law authorizes the extension of permanent residency to foreign trafficking victims who would face hardship or retribution if returned to their country of origin; however, authorities have issued no such residence permits.
Thirty-two victims of the total 45 identified cooperated with police and prosecutors in investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. Court proceedings, however, were not always adapted, nor law enforcement professionals sufficiently trained, to avoid re-traumatization of victims. Victims have been discouraged from participating in trafficking investigations due to these conditions. Victims provided testimony multiple times and in close proximity to suspected traffickers during the pre-trial and trial process. NGOs deemed the expertise of the legal advice available to victims through the government program insufficient. NGOs not contracted by the government have provided private, specialized legal assistance to aid victims. Although Slovak law allows for victims to pursue restitution through civil and criminal cases, experts noted judges did not award damages in the majority of criminal cases, and victims lacked legal and financial support to pursue damage claims. The government did not report cases of victims being awarded restitution. There were no reports of the government penalizing victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, however, unidentified foreign victims may have been prosecuted or deported, and the government passed an amendment in 2013 that authorizes prosecutors not to prosecute trafficking victims for crimes committed during their exploitation.