The government increased protection efforts. The government identified 30 victims (five victims in 2018); 24 were victims of sex trafficking and six were victims of forced begging (three were victims of sex trafficking and two were victims of forced begging in 2018); 28 were female and two were male (all were female victims in 2018); all 30 victims were children (two children in 2018). Mobile groups and task forces screened 651 individuals (395 in 2018) in commercial sex or employed in vulnerable sectors, such as hotels, bars, nightclubs, and bathhouses, for trafficking indicators. Authorities interviewed another two individuals deemed “high-risk” (17 in 2018) due to work at businesses that violated labor standards. Authorities screened 2,521 Georgian nationals deported from other countries for trafficking indicators at the international airport and border crossings (3,009 in 2018). The government continued to use guidelines for victim identification, including the proper treatment of victims, screening for indicators at border posts, and victim-centered interview practices. A multi-disciplinary national referral mechanism provided standard operating procedures for officially identifying and referring victims to services. Law enforcement officially recognized victims who participated in investigations, and the Permanent Group assessed and officially recognized victims who declined to participate in investigations; both recognitions granted the same victim protection and assistance. The Permanent Group comprised a five-member board of non-governmental and international organization representatives and was required by statute to convene and assess a potential victim within 48 hours. Law enforcement officially recognized all 30 identified victims (all five victims in 2018). While the government adopted improvements to the procedures of the Permanent Group, experts reported the process of obtaining official victim status through the Permanent Group was increasingly difficult. For example, the Permanent Group rejected a case from an international organization that identified two potential victims with clear indicators of forced labor.
Government-run crisis centers in five cities and NGOs provided initial psychological care, medical assistance, legal support, and temporary shelter for potential victims awaiting official victim status. Additionally, the government operated anti-trafficking shelters in Tbilisi and Batumi and other victim assistance programs; the government allocated 591,000 lari ($205,920) to the government-run anti-trafficking shelters, compared with 548,960 lari ($191,280) in 2018. The government provided medical aid, psychological counseling, legal assistance, childcare services, reintegration support, and a one-time financial payment of 1,000 lari ($350) to victims. Child victims received the same assistance specialized for minors under the government’s care, in addition to custodial care, education, and family reintegration programs. The government-run shelters were staffed by a nurse and psychologist and offered separate sections for men, women, and children. Victims could initially stay at the shelter for three months, which authorities could extend upon the victim’s request; the government-run shelters accommodated six victims (three in 2018). Shelter staff chaperoned victims when leaving the shelter, but victims could request to leave the shelter unchaperoned. One victim received legal aid, one received medical care, and none received the 1,000 lari ($350) in cash assistance, compared with five victims receiving legal aid, one medical care, and one 1,000 lari ($350) in cash assistance in 2018. The government amended the law to remove a clause that denied victims the 1,000 lari ($350) cash assistance if they received restitution from their trafficker in court; the amendment was awaiting parliamentary approval as of the end of the reporting period. While observers occasionally visited the two government-run anti-trafficking shelters, experts reported the inability to assess the quality of services at the two government-run shelters due to a lack of independent evaluations of the operations and conditions. In previous years, observers reported government-run shelters focused on victims of domestic violence due to the low number of identified trafficking victims and were unable to provide specialized services to trafficking victims.
The government did not report any cases of penalization of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. The government provided equal services for domestic and foreign victims and granted foreign victims renewable one-year residence permits with the ability to seek legal employment; one victim received a residence permit (four in 2018). The government could provide repatriation assistance to Georgian victims returning to Georgia and foreign victims wishing to leave Georgia, but reported no victims required repatriation assistance (none in 2018). The law required closed-door sessions for court proceedings and allowed victims to leave the country pending trial; however, experts reported law enforcement required victims to remain in-country through the end of the trial, likely hindering victim cooperation, particularly from foreign victims wanting to repatriate, due to slow court proceedings. Twenty-four victims assisted law enforcement (five in 2018). The Prosecutor General’s Office’s Victim-Witness Coordinators provided counsel to victims from the beginning of the investigation through the end of the court proceedings; Victim-Witness Coordinators provided assistance to eight victims and 10 witnesses (four victims and 12 witnesses in 2018). The law allowed recorded testimony or testimony by other technological means; none of the trials used such measure (none in 2018). The law also allowed the possibility of placing a victim into the state’s witness protection program; no victims required the use of witness protection in 2018 and 2019. Observers reported prosecutors and judges applied victim-centered approaches to prevent re-traumatization during trial. No trafficking victims have ever received restitution from their traffickers, and observers highlighted the failure to freeze and seize criminal assets as an obstacle to pursuing restitution from traffickers.