The government maintained protection efforts. The Rescue Program was the government office responsible for coordinating short-term emergency victim services; a separate entity, the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence, and Family (SENAF), assisted foreign victims and victims identified in the autonomous city of Buenos Aires. In 2019, the Rescue Program reported assisting 1,438 victims compared to 1,501 victims in 2018 and 1,107 victims in 2017. The government did not report how many were victims of sex trafficking as opposed to labor trafficking, how many were foreign nationals, which agencies identified these victims, or whether this victim count was comprehensive. The government did not report whether SENAF coordinated any repatriations of foreign victims during the reporting period. During the reporting period, the government announced the development of a new virtual platform to compile victim assistance data from both the national and provincial levels; the database recorded victims’ biographical information and their use of applicable services.
Federal officials had formal procedures for victim identification and assistance; however, in practice, the procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations varied by province. Some front-line responders had limited understanding of trafficking. Law 27.362 provided a legal framework and more public defenders to secure rights and guarantees for victims of crimes, but victims and prosecutors did not utilize this law in any trafficking cases in the reporting period. SENAF and each provincial government were responsible for mid- and long-term assistance for foreign and domestic victims; experts noted the need for more integrated and comprehensive victim assistance. Regional governments in 10 provinces operated anti-trafficking centers that provided psychological, social, medical, and judicial assistance to trafficking victims. The government reportedly had 10 shelters spread across various provinces that trafficking victims could access; however, only two were specialized shelters. SENAF reported operating one shelter specifically for foreign victims, regardless of gender or age. The government did not operate or fund specialized trafficking shelters for male victims; consequently, the government often placed male victims in other government-funded shelters or in hotels for temporary housing. NGOs reported a need for specialized shelters, long-term housing, skills training and employment, childcare, legal assistance, and financial assistance for victims after testifying in court cases. NGOs also emphasized the need for improved implementation of a witness protection program that provided for victims’ security and safety during trials. Some government officials acknowledged that the witness protection program, which was primarily designed for witnesses of drug trafficking, terrorism, and extortive kidnapping, was ill-suited to the needs of human trafficking victims. According to media, PROTEX was investigating a witness protection program agent accused of harassing program participants and forcing a participant’s child into commercial sex. Foreign victims had the same access to care as Argentine nationals; however, foreign victims were sometimes unaware of available services. The government did not report funding allocations to support victim assistance.
The government encouraged victim participation in trafficking trials through an assistance framework whereby victims had access to psychological and legal support while preparing to testify. The Rescue Program provided tribunals with reports on the psychological state of victims and what requirements they might have to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers. Other support for victim testimony included the possibility of video testimony and the use of recorded testimony. Victims had limited success in securing compensation through civil suits against their traffickers. In July 2019, Law 27.508 established a trust fund for trafficking victims comprised of traffickers’ forfeited assets and began requiring criminal courts to award victim restitution at the time of traffickers’ convictions. Under the new law, victims could also file civil suits to receive additional restitution. Courts applied Law 27.508 to grant victim restitution in seven cases in 2019.