The government increased victim protection efforts. The government identified 39 official victims and 85 potential victims (no official victims and four potential victims in 2018). Of the official victims, all were victims of forced labor (four victims of forced begging in 2018); 12 female victims and 27 males (four female victims in 2018); and no children (four in 2018). Police did not identify any child victims of forced begging (22 in 2018) but, in 2018, police accommodated most of these children at local social welfare centers until releasing them to their parents or guardians. First responders carried out the preliminary identification of possible victims and then contacted police who formally recognized the individuals as potential trafficking victims. Police officers proactively screened foreign nationals and individuals in commercial sex for indicators of trafficking. In previous years, observers continued to report the low number of identified victims reflected inadequate victim identification procedures. The government updated standard operating procedures for identifying and referring victims to services, including eliminating the requirement for victims to cooperate with law enforcement in order to receive services, by creating “the Team for Identification of Trafficking Victims” (TITV), which assessed and officially recognized potential victims and coordinated victim care and placement. The TITV consisted of a doctor, a psychologist from the Center for Social and Child Protection, police, a social worker from the Center for Social Work, and a representative from the Office for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office); however, the TITV did not include representatives from civil society organizations despite their interest in participating in the victim identification process. The government provided the same services to potential victims and officially recognized victims. The government provided training on victim identification to police, labor inspectors, health workers, and social workers.
The Ministry of Interior (MOI) transferred funding responsibilities for victim protection to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW), which subsequently defunded the only NGO-run shelter due to its inability to obtain necessary licenses to provide victim assistance. MLSW opened a call for proposals to establish a new specialized shelter (the shelter), selected an NGO with the necessary licenses, and allocated €40,000 ($44,940), compared with €24,000 ($26,970) for the defunded NGO-run shelter in 2018. While the government reported providing ad hoc support to two victims identified during the shelter transition, the selected NGO did not have experience in victim assistance, according to observers, who noted the potential for low quality of assistance at the new shelter. The shelter provided specialized services for trafficking victims, including vocational training and medical, psycho-social, legal, and reintegration assistance; the shelter accommodated two victims (three in 2018). The shelter had limited space and capacity but could accommodate adult male, adult female, and child victims in separate living quarters. Victims could leave the shelter after an assessment by police or by the social welfare centers in the case of children. MLSW operated local social and welfare centers and two regional institutions, which provided general services for victims of abuse, including trafficking victims. The law allowed foreign victims to acquire temporary residence permits from three months to one year with the ability to extend; no victims applied for temporary residence permits in 2018 or 2019.
In 2018, the government penalized one potential victim for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit due to inadequate identification. The government, in cooperation with an international organization, provided training to police, prosecutors, and judges on implementing guidelines for non-penalization of trafficking victims. The law provided witness protection, free legal aid, and a psychologist to encourage victims to participate in prosecutions; however, observers continued to report the government assigned lawyers with little or no experience to victims. Prosecutors continued to implement victim-centered approaches for victims who participated in court proceedings. For example, prosecutors video recorded a child victim’s testimony in the presence of a social worker, requested a female judge, and separated her from the trafficker to prevent re-traumatization. However, observers reported in previous years that police failed to protect a potential victim from intimidation and threats to change her testimony from her at-large perpetrator. The law on compensation of victims intended to provide financial assistance to victims of violent crimes; however, this law will not go into effect until Montenegro becomes a member of the EU. The law entitled victims to file criminal and civil suits against their traffickers for restitution; no victim has ever received restitution in civil or criminal proceedings, and observers reported some prosecutors did not know they could make claims during criminal proceedings.