The government increased efforts to protect victims. Based on open pre-trial investigations in 2017, the prosecution service identified 407 victims (323 of sex trafficking, 67 of labor trafficking, and 17 of forced servitude), compared with 365 victims (329 victims of sex trafficking, 31 of labor trafficking, and five of both sex and labor trafficking) in 2016. Forty-two of the identified victims were children (21 in 2016). Authorities identified five potential foreign victims from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Thailand during the year, compared with one foreign victim in 2016. However, observers alleged law enforcement could not effectively identify victims, particularly labor trafficking victims and victims among third country nationals. Additionally, 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. Law enforcement officials, prosecutors, investigators, and labor inspectors received training on trafficking, including on identification; those trainings were mostly funded by international grants and NGOs. Pre-trial authorities formally identified all trafficking victims, and the commission referred victims to services. The government co-funded projects with international donors, allocating 15 percent of the total costs. In 2017, the government spent 376,000 lev ($230,530) for services and implementation of the annual national anti-trafficking and victim protection program with an additional 254,000 lev ($155,730) from international donors. The government also co-funded 15 percent of the 390,000 lev ($239,120) allocated for shelters and crisis centers in Sofia and Varna, including the crisis center for children in Sofia. The government opened two new NGO-operated facilities in Sofia for trafficking victims: a shelter and a center (in one facility) for temporary accommodation of adult victims and a crisis center for child victims. The government also contracted NGOs to operate two centers offering consultative services for trafficking victims and three shelters offering residential services. Furthermore, 23 publicly-run crisis centers offered social services to children and women victims of violence, including trafficking. The centers provided support, counseling, and accommodations to 144 trafficking victims. Child victims could stay in centers for up to six months at which point child protection services could place them with relatives, a foster family, or another residential care institution. In March, the council on child protection began to institute a specialized service for referral and accommodation of unaccompanied minors with a view to providing them with care separately from adults. There were no specialized accommodation options or services for male victims.
The law allowed foreign victims who cooperated 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. For foreign victims who chose not to assist in trafficking investigations, the government provided a 40-day recovery period (70 days for foreign child victims) before repatriation. The law accorded 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 protect them from re-traumatization, effectively administer justice, and convict perpetrators with meaningful sentences. Observers 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 their lawyers. Observers reported the process for seeking compensation continued to be overly bureaucratic and discouraged victims from making claims; as a result, no victims received compensation.