The government maintained protection efforts. The government identified 14 trafficking victims (13 sex trafficking victims, including one minor and one labor trafficking victim) and referred them all to care; all were Venezuelan. This compared to 14 trafficking victims in 2017 and 13 in 2016. The government reported all victims assisted with criminal investigations during the reporting period; two victims received permission to work. In total, 29 victims (including those from previous reporting periods) received care; this compared to 14 victims in 2017. NGOs reported identifying many additional victims and referred them to the CTU, but the NGOs did not receive assistance or follow-ups on the referred cases. As a result, NGOs reported working directly with victims instead of referring them to the CTU.
The CTU spent approximately 203,100 TTD ($30,000) on victim care and protection, compared to 198,900 TTD ($29,380) in 2017 and 700,000 TTD ($103,400) in 2016. The government provided additional funding to NGO care providers through the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services. Observers, however, noted there was insufficient government funding for comprehensive victim care. The government, working primarily through the CTU, the children’s protective services agency, and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Gender and Child Affairs Office provided victim care services, sometimes in conjunction with local NGOs. However, observers reported victims often did not receive these services and noted the government did not adequately screen undocumented migrants or refugees for trafficking indicators before placing them in detention. As a result, some observers indicated that following police actions or immigration raids, officials, without screening potential victims for trafficking indicators, detained some foreign victims for violating immigration laws—even though those unlawful acts occurred as part of being trafficked and traffickers may have compelled victims to commit them. Others reported the government kept these unscreened trafficking victims in the immigration detention facility instead of shelters for trafficking victims and without providing them victim care. The government housed adult female victims of trafficking at domestic violence shelters run by vetted NGOs who worked with the CTU. The government placed adult male victims at safe houses run by the security services. Observers reported an absence of appropriate shelters with adequate staff and security personnel. The government housed child victims in homes run by the child protective services agency. However, observers noted the government detained at least two child victims of trafficking in the youth detention center on immigration charges that occurred as a result of the trafficking crime. Reports indicated the government did not provide specialized care for these child trafficking victims. The CTU and the children’s authority signed a memorandum of understanding in August 2018 to enhance the identification of placement options for child trafficking victims. The social services committee comprising officials of the CTU, ministry of social development and family services, ministry of health, office of the prime minister, as well as several NGOs, began drafting a victim care manual.
Domestic violence shelters did not permit victims to leave unchaperoned or at will. Observers reported victim access to telephones to call family or request assistance was limited, or in some cases denied. While the law allowed victims to work, observers noted that, in practice, the government did not allow the large majority of victims to work. Because of these conditions, observers noted some victims ran away from shelters or asked to be repatriated before investigations completed. Language interpretation services were not always available for counseling sessions and police interviews; experts reported shelters did not have bilingual staff or volunteers. In addition, some government officials noted a shortage of interpreters available to assist with foreign national victim care and testimony. The CTU provided 24/7 security for victims who participated in court proceedings. Experts noted working-level staff at NGOs and shelters needed more training on trafficking indicators to better identify potential trafficking victims.