The government maintained protection efforts. The government identified 53 victims (46 in 2018 and 75 in 2017) and NGOs identified an additional 13. Of the victims identified by police, 24 were female (nine of whom were children) and 29 were male (one of whom was a child). Some victims experienced multiple forms of trafficking, making the statistics uncertain; the government identified at least 11 victims of sex trafficking, seven victims of forced begging, and four of forced criminality, with the remainder being labor trafficking victims or unspecified. The national police reported 37 of the 48 victims identified by law enforcement were Slovaks exploited in other countries; only two victims were foreign nationals (one from Serbia and one from Afghanistan). The government continued to use its National Reference Framework for victim identification and referral, but as previously reported by GRETA in 2015 and an NGO in 2019, the identification of foreign national, unaccompanied minor, and Slovak victims within the country remained a challenge. In 2019, the government trained employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on victim identification and distributed written guidelines to those within Slovakia and its embassies abroad; employees were then required to provide the guidelines to foreign nationals, including domestic workers, but the government did not report how many foreign nationals received this guidance. The government provided victim identification and referral training to 150 teachers at high schools across Slovakia and employees of Legal Aid centers, which included a lesson they could teach on trafficking prevention, and at least one victim was later identified by a teacher. The government made efforts to identify foreign victims through joint interagency inspections, but an NGO reported the government’s ability to identify foreign victims of trafficking in Slovakia remained limited and would pose a potentially greater problem in the future, as the number of foreign workers continued to grow in response to labor shortages. Civil society experts alleged the government arrested and later deported 47 suspected foreign trafficking victims for illegal employment and tax evasion in October 2019, but the government reported it did not find indicators of trafficking among this population. A government-funded NGO administering the victim-care program conducted 10 visits to asylum-seeker facilities and detention facilities for irregular migrants, but it did not identify any victims in 2019 or in any prior year. Slovak embassies abroad reported providing pre-return assistance to 14 Slovak nationals and voluntary returns to seven. Neither of the two foreign victims opted to enter the victim assistance program, but were voluntarily repatriated by an international organization.
The MOI state secretary acted as the national coordinator on anti-trafficking efforts and approved the official identification of victims and their enrollment into the victim assistance program. While law enforcement and social workers had procedures to refer victims to the national coordinator or care facilities, other officials lacked such procedures, including health care specialists, employees of foster homes, and counselors of offices of labor, social affairs, and family. The MOI did not finalize the national reference framework to include procedures for these professionals during the reporting period. Of the 66 total victims identified by the government and NGOs, 17 entered the government-funded victim-care program in 2019 (16 of 56 in 2018 and 19 of 88 in 2017); police referred nine, embassies abroad referred four, civil society referred three, and one self-identified. The program continued to assist an additional 14 victims enrolled from previous years. In 2019, the government provided €215,000 ($241,570) to one NGO that provided the victim assistance program, voluntary return, and the national trafficking hotline, the full amount requested by the NGO, compared with €275,000 ($308,990) in 2018. The government-funded and NGO-run assistance program provided Slovak and foreign victims with shelter, financial support, repatriation to Slovakia, health care, psycho-social support, legal assistance, interpretation services, and job training. However, government officials and the victim-care service provider noted that after concluding the victim-care program, survivors were still in poor physical and mental states and frequently ended up on the streets, which raised some concerns. Foreign victims, including both EU nationals and third country nationals, had access to the same scope and quality of victim care and support. All potential victims were eligible for at least 30 days of crisis care; victims enrolled in the assistance program were eligible for up to 180 days of care without having to participate in an investigation. The government did not have dedicated shelters for trafficking victims but rather accommodated victims in domestic violence shelters, with men and women housed separately, or in homeless shelters. There were limited accommodations for victims with families. The government did not fund a specialized victim-care provider dedicated to child victims; authorities placed unaccompanied child trafficking victims in the care of child protective services in government-run children’s homes or an NGO-run crisis home for children. Referral of child victims to care was not systematic. Although 10 children were identified in 2019, no children entered the care program, but the government reported that they received the same scope of protection services provided through the program by child protective services. Similarly, no children entered the program in 2017 or 2018. Experts said government ministries’ lack of clarity on their roles and responsibilities hampered service provision to children, particularly if a legal guardian was not involved.
In 2019, all but one victim identified by police cooperated with police and prosecutors; victims who decide to cooperate with law enforcement were eligible to access victim care for the duration of the investigation and trial. It was unnecessary for the government to grant work permits as foreign victims received subsidiary protection and could work legally. The law authorized permanent residency for foreign victims who would face hardship or retribution if returned to their country of origin; authorities issued no such residence permits during the reporting period. The pre-trial and trial process was lengthy and not always adapted, nor prosecutors or judges sufficiently trained, to avoid re-traumatization of victims. The 2018 crime victims protection act provided psychological assistance to victims in pre-trial proceedings, banned direct cross-examination of victims, and allowed recorded testimony as official trial evidence, among other protections. NGOs reported the government implemented and applied the new law inconsistently, and police continued to lack proper interviewing rooms. Officials expressed concern the new law’s limit of one victim interview would hinder opportunities to build rapport with traumatized victims, who are unlikely to provide reliable testimony in a single interview session. Judges were generally willing to accommodate requests to provide a separate waiting area for victims and to remove the suspected trafficker from the courtroom during victim testimony. Witness protection programs existed, but the government reported it was not needed to protect trafficking victims. Though the process was complicated and the amount small, the 2018 crime victims protection act enabled the government to grant €5,200 ($5,840) in compensation to victims from state funding, which the victim service provider requested in two cases; however, the Ministry of Justice did not make a decision in either case during the reporting period. Prosecutors could file for restitution from traffickers in criminal cases, and restitution for €2,000 ($2,250) was awarded to one victim in 2019. However, civil society continued to allege that prosecutors were frequently reluctant to request restitution in trials to avoid prolonging already lengthy proceedings. Additionally, victims could seek damages through civil suits and in 2019 one victim was awarded €29,000 ($32,580); however, the trafficker did not pay, and courts failed to enforce the payment. NGOs continued to argue excessive legal costs and length of proceedings discouraged many victims from filing civil suits. Under the 2018 act, victims who opted to seek compensation from their traffickers through a civil suit could not also request restitution from the state through criminal proceedings. Experts noted judges did not award criminal restitution or civil damages in the majority of cases. The law provided a narrow interpretation of the non-punishment of victims, giving prosecutors discretion to terminate criminal prosecution only for offenses committed by negligence and offenses carrying a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment; it did not cover administrative offenses.