The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Article 189a of Poland’s penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed punishments of three to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 189a replaced Article 253 of the old criminal code, which prosecutors used in cases that started when Article 253 was in effect and the first instance conviction was under Article 253. Article 253 of the old criminal code also prescribed punishments of three to 15 years’ imprisonment. In addition, Article 203 criminalized inducing an adult into prostitution through force, fraud, or coercion, and Article 204.3 criminalized inducing a child into prostitution; both articles prescribed punishments of one to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The government lacked a central mechanism to cross-reference and consolidate law enforcement statistics, did not disaggregate sex and labor trafficking data, and only considered convictions and sentences issued after appeals to be final. The national police and the border guard initiated trafficking investigations. In cases that merited prosecution, law enforcement authorities transferred investigations to prosecutors, who initiated their own investigations of the same cases. Law enforcement authorities initiated 33 investigations under Article 189a in 2018 (27 in 2017). Prosecutors initiated 79 investigations of cases referred by police and border guard; the government did not report how many involved forced labor as it had reported in previous years (34 of 135 involved forced labor in 2017 and 12 of 45 in 2016). In 2018, there were 47 prosecutions under Article 189a (47 in 2017); the government did not report the number of prosecutions under Article 203 or Article 204.3. The vast majority of prosecutions were for sex trafficking crimes. First-level courts issued a total of 33 convictions (30 in 2017), which were subject to appeal—17 convictions under Article 189a (six in 2017, 33 in 2016, and 36 in 2015); 16 convictions under Article 203 (24 in 2017); the government did not track first instance convictions under Article 204.3. In 2017, the most recent year for which post-appeal judgments were available, judges issued a total of 42 final convictions (58 in 2015 and 58 in 2016)—24 final convictions under Articles 189a and 253 of the old criminal code (34 in 2016 and 30 in 2015); 11 final convictions under Article 203 (17 in 2016 and 16 in 2015); and seven final convictions under Article 204.3 (seven in 2016 and 12 in 2015). The government did not report whether courts achieved any final convictions for forced labor in the reporting period; media sources did not report any final forced labor convictions. Forty-three percent of convicted traffickers served less than one year of prison time. Sixty percent of sentences were for two years or less (55 percent in 2016, 58 percent in 2015 and 78 percent in 2014); two for one year; 12 for one to two years; eight for two years; three traffickers received a fine, community service, and wage penalties, respectively, instead of prison sentences. Authorities suspended 36 percent of prison sentences for trafficking convictions (43 percent in 2016), including nine sentences for one to two years and six for two years. In addition to imprisonment, 17 traffickers received a fine, 11 of which were suspended.
Authorities provided training on victim identification to 57 police, 18 border guards, 164 consular officers (154 in 2017), 29 labor inspectors (30 in 2017 and 99 in 2016), 43 employees of crisis intervention centers (94 in 2017 and 79 in 2016), and 20 officials who interview asylum-seekers (13 in 2017). The border guard organized training for 835 officers on standard operating procedures for assisting child victims of trafficking (410 in 2017 and 2,065 in 2016). Police and prosecutors, however, acknowledged authorities lacked the expertise to identify forced labor victims and child victims. Law enforcement had a list of indicators for interviewing potential victims; sample questions focused on freedom of movement and did not take psychological coercion or subtle forms of force into consideration. Authorities held one trafficking training session for 61 prosecutors and judges (111 in 2017 and 236 in 2016).
The National Prosecutor Office introduced a formal mechanism in 2018 to improve coordination among prosecutors, the border guard, and police, whereby law enforcement could refer discontinued or dismissed trafficking investigations and prosecutions for review. The prosecutor responsible for coordinating trafficking investigations within the National Prosecutor Office could review decisions made by lower-level prosecutors, including whether to discontinue or dismiss cases, and make assessments of the accuracy of these decisions. He served as a consultant on final resort appeals to the Supreme Court in cases of inadequate punishment. In 2018, the police referred eight cases to the National Prosecutor Office, and, in all eight cases, the office agreed with the police that the cases involved trafficking. The National Prosecutor Office sent the cases back to regional prosecutors’ offices, who were obliged to look into the investigations and respond to the National Prosecutor Office with a planned course of action; in three cases authorities reopened investigations and in five cases authorities expanded charges to include human trafficking. The border guard did not use this review mechanism in 2018.
The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses. Authorities collaborated on investigations with counterparts in the United Kingdom (UK), requested extradition of a Polish citizen from the Netherlands, and extradited two Polish nationals to the UK on trafficking-related charges. Despite NGOs assisting approximately 520 victims of forced labor in the last five years, authorities reported there were very few prosecutions for forced labor for several reasons: law enforcement had difficulty identifying this type of crime; there was no clear definition of what constitutes forced labor in the Polish criminal code; and prosecutors and judges often lacked expertise in labor trafficking cases. Observers reported prosecutors and judges lacked familiarity with a victim-centered approach to trial, the impact of trauma on victims, and the severity and complexity of the crime. One ongoing prosecutorial investigation involved suspected forced labor of 107 North Korean potential victims in the agricultural sector with trafficking indicators, such as workers paying money to middlemen in advance to obtain employment; none of the workers were referred to services.