The government decreased protection efforts. Authorities identified 36 victims in 2019, the lowest number of identified victims in five years and a decline from 58 in 2018 and 60 in 2017. As in previous years, the government did not report the types of exploitation of victims, corroborating experts’ concerns that the data collected across government agencies and civil society were inconsistent and did not provide a comprehensive picture of the trafficking situation. While authorities implemented formal victim identification and referral mechanisms for victim assistance, observers reported authorities in some parts of the country underutilized both and lacked the skills to identify victims. Amid reports indicating an increase in the exploitation of foreign workers, authorities identified six foreign victims in 2019 (none in 2018, 20 in 2017). Observers reported a decrease in rural areas of local officials’ propensity to blame victims. Government-funded NGOs supported 224 trafficking victims and at-risk individuals (239 in 2018, 219 in 2017). The government allocated NGOs €165,000 ($185,390) for victim assistance programs, the same amount as in 2018; local governments did not report allotting funds to support trafficking victims in 2019, compared with €48,000 ($53,930) in 2018.
Experts raised concerns about inadequate protection and assistance measures for child trafficking victims. Authorities placed child victims in foster care homes or mixed-use shelters, as there were no shelters specifically for child trafficking victims. According to observers, child protective services struggled to identify child trafficking victims and refer them to care, especially in rural areas. In 2019, authorities identified four minors (three in 2018, eight in 2017). Child sexual abuse victims, including trafficking victims, could seek assistance in the government-operated national support center in Vilnius. The government placed Lithuanian female trafficking victims in municipal and NGO-facilitated shelters for victims of domestic violence and had the option to place foreign victims at a refugee reception center in Rukla. Law enforcement’s shortcomings in adequately protecting victims during the investigation and the trial process, including the absence of clear policy, contributed to victims’ reluctance to assist in cases. In particular, traffickers sometimes threatened victims as they were entering or exiting the courtroom and victims lacked access to mental health professionals during or after their interrogations by law enforcement. Legislation allowed foreign trafficking victims a 30-day reflection period to decide whether to cooperate with law enforcement; foreign victims cooperating with law enforcement could receive temporary residency. While the government provided legal representation to victims, observers reported attorneys had little experience with trafficking issues; as a result, NGOs often hired private attorneys for victims.