The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 53 victims (50 sex trafficking victims and three forced labor victims), compared to 72 victims (67 sex trafficking victims and five forced labor victims) in 2017 and 53 victims in 2016. Those identified included 18 women and 32 girls; 52 were Salvadoran and one was a foreign national. Authorities have not identified men or boys as trafficking victims since 2016. The anti-trafficking council provided a manual to immigration officials to identify possible trafficking victims in border regions; however, the government lacked formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including individuals in commercial sex. The anti-trafficking council provided some training on victim identification to immigration officials, labor inspectors, physicians, service providers, and tourism professionals. Officials observed a gap between knowledge of victim identification procedures and the application of those procedures by first responders.
In September 2018, the anti-trafficking council launched an interagency protocol for immediate victim assistance, which complemented the “Protocol for Intergovernmental Action for the Integral Care of Trafficking in Persons Victims” revised during a previous reporting period and required by the national action plan. According to a key government official, the protocols have resulted in victims and receiving more expedited medical and psychological attention. The anti-trafficking council operated 19 offices to provide information and referrals to victims in 15 municipalities across the country. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security’s budget for the victims’ attention and gender equality area in FY 2018 was $370,960, while the anti-trafficking unit received a separate budget of $486,570. The government maintained only a single shelter with the capacity for 20-25 girls that housed and offered psychological and medical care to 11 girls in 2018, compared to 12 girls in 2017 and 15 girls in 2016. The government referred 50 victims to NGOs for temporary shelter, psychological services, and job placement services. The government offered no specialized services or shelter to boys, adults, or LGBTI victims, although NGOs reported these populations needed shelter, rehabilitation, and mental health services. Authorities assisted Salvadorans returned from abroad by providing medical and social services, but the government did not identify trafficking victims among returnees in 2018. The government offered few long-term support or reintegration services to victims, leaving them vulnerable to re-trafficking.
El Salvador’s laws allowed judges to order convicted traffickers to pay restitution; however, the courts did not order restitution in any cases in 2018. The government provided witness protection and support to identified victims, including disguising victims’ identities in court and allowing victims to provide testimony by deposition. Government officials and NGO representatives stated police need additional procedures and training to properly identify, interact with, and protect victims, who were often mistaken for criminals and may have been punished for such crimes. Furthermore, civil society organizations reported the government treated as criminals children forced to engage in illicit activity by criminal groups, rather than providing them protection as trafficking victims. Criminal groups restricted the access of authorities and NGOs in neighborhoods they controlled, impeding victim protection and assistance efforts. The 2014 trafficking law provided foreign trafficking victims the right to seek residency status, which would allow them to work legally, but authorities did not offer such protection to any foreign victims in 2018, compared to four foreign victims in 2017 who ultimately requested to be repatriated to their country of origin.