The government maintained efforts to protect victims. Authorities continued to implement a formal victim-centered protocol to guide front-line responders in identifying both sex and labor trafficking victims and referring them to services. However, concerns remained on the thoroughness of their application when dealing with vulnerable populations, such as migrants. The national trafficking commission funded and trained member agencies and ministries in their roles in identifying and protecting victims and making referrals. During the reporting period, the government identified two victims of sex trafficking out of 28 individuals screened in 2018, compared to five identified victims out of 37 individuals screened in 2017. The identified victims were adult females, one from The Bahamas, and the other from Venezuela. The National Trafficking Committee referred both victims to a care facility and a social worker. Another potential victim self-identified as a trafficking victim when brought to court on visa overstay charges; the trafficking task force, immigration and police authorities investigated her and others involved in her case, determined it was not a trafficking case and subsequently deported her. The government reported it determined which potential trafficking victims to formally screen for trafficking based on referrals from initial screenings by non-governmental and faith based organizations, businesses, and other ministries, although these organizations may be implicated in trafficking. Experts reported authorities did not use formal protocols to screen all migrants, both those residing in country and others upon arrival, for trafficking or to protect those identified as victims. The increasing influx of migrants, inconsistent training of staff, and lack of implementation of identification protocols in migrant languages raised concerns that authorities penalized potential trafficking victims. Experts reported authorities rapidly and routinely detained and deported irregular Haitian migrants without screening for trafficking.
The government reported spending 125,710 Bahamian dollars ($125,710) on trafficking victims’ care and prevention activities, an increase from 82,060 Bahamian dollars ($82,060) in 2017. The government also provided 240,000 Bahamian dollars ($240,000, the same as 2017) to four NGOs that provide services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups. Authorities encouraged identified trafficking victims to assist in prosecutions by providing them with lodging, food, a stipend, clothing, medical assistance and psychological counseling, immigration relief, legal and transportation assistance, support during court proceedings, and witness protection, including a constant presence of police or Royal Bahamian Defense Force as escort or protection outside shelters. There was no dedicated shelter for trafficking victims and authorities placed victims in NGO-managed shelters shared with domestic violence victims. Care could be provided to all victims, although no male victims were identified during the reporting period. Initially, the committee provided short-term lodging and later long-term lodging. Victims did not have a choice in shelter options, but they could choose to reside independently elsewhere, although the government did not report providing lodging assistance in such cases. Government assistance was not contingent upon cooperation by victims. Bahamian law permitted victim testimony via live television links and for the reading of written statements into evidence; however, in 2016, a magistrate acquitted three traffickers in part because the victims could not be cross-examined. One of the identified victims during the reporting period assisted with the investigation and prosecution of her cases while the other left the country. The anti-trafficking act authorized the court to order convicted defendants to pay restitution to victims; however, courts did not order such restitution in the past four years.