The government maintained efforts in victim protection. The government identified 40 trafficking victims (49 in 2016). Of these, 21 were victims of sex trafficking, four of forced labor, four of forced begging, one of forced criminality, and 10 of multiple types of exploitation. Eighteen victims were children (21 in 2016). First responders referred 142 potential victims (150 in 2016) to the government’s Center for Protection of Trafficking Victims (CPTV); the government referred 44, social welfare organizations referred 57, and 41 were referred by civil society or other means. Seventeen police directorates also had multi-disciplinary anti-trafficking teams that included prosecutors, social workers, and health officials intended to identify and refer victims in their localities; however, observers reported most teams did not meet and had minimal activities in 2017.
The government continued to lack formal victim identification procedures. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs implemented the use of trafficking indicators produced by CPTV but the use of these indicators was ad hoc in other government entities, such as law enforcement and schools. Observers reported law enforcement in charge of investigating prostitution-related offenses, particularly outside of Belgrade, continued to operate with limited or no training on victim identification. CPTV trained first responders on proactive identification of victims, including within migrant and refugee populations. The government used an outdated national referral mechanism that lacked established roles and responsibilities for referring victims to support services. CPTV assessed and officially recognized victims referred by first responders and developed a protection and assistance plan for each victim. GRETA reported CPTV lacked the staff to review cases in a timely manner and resources to travel to the location of potential victims and interview them in person. Experts also reported concern about the lack of control and transparency over the official victim assessment.
The government did not provide information on funds allocated for victim protection in 2016 or 2017. The government did not provide funding to NGOs despite relying on their victim support and reintegration services. The government and NGOs provided psycho-social, legal, educational, medical, financial, and reintegration support; however, the government had limited procedures outlining cooperation with NGOs on victim services. CPTV had two units, the protection agency and the urgent reception center, but for the fifth 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 (LCSW) operated shelters for domestic violence victims that also accommodated female trafficking victims. GRETA visited a LCSW-run shelter in Sremska Mitrovica and reported “good living conditions” but these shelters generally lacked the specialized programs and trained staff necessary for working with trafficking victims. Experts reported CPTV referred fewer victims to NGOs for support and assistance in 2017. The government reported authorities returned child victims to their families, referred them to foster care, or placed them 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 the majority of social workers did not receive specific training on working with children. The government did not provide specialized support for male victims; an NGO rented accommodation for male victims as needed and male victims could access all other rehabilitation services offered to female victims. CPTV signed a protocol with the National Employment Service (NES) to assist victims in finding employment; NES assisted 36 victims in 2017.
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, including children. Observers reported Serbian authorities threatened some victims with prosecution for non-cooperation. Authorities did not adequately protect victims’ rights during lengthy court proceedings and victims frequently had to appear in front of their traffickers. Observers reported CPTV consistently appointed lawyers to represent victims but the length of trials and assistance provided to victims depended on the individual prosecutor or judge. Judges did not consistently assign the status of “especially vulnerable witness” to trafficking victims; this status allowed witnesses to testify without the defendant present and allowed testimony via video link. The government inappropriately prosecuted trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, particularly forced criminality; however, NGOs reported CPTV successfully intervened to suspend known prosecutions of trafficking victims. The law entitled 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. One victim received 2.2 million dinars ($21,710) in compensation from a civil suit in 2017; however, civil suits were lengthy, expensive, and required the victim to face the abuser numerous times. Only two victims received compensation to date. The government provided foreign victims temporary residence permits renewable up to one year; two victims received residence permits in 2017. Observers reported the government provided inadequate repatriation support for Serbian forced labor victims in Slovakia.