The government decreased 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 2020, the Rescue Program reported assisting 933 victims, compared with 1,438 victims in 2019 and 1,501 victims in 2018. Of the victims assisted, 644 were victims of labor trafficking, 235 were victims of sex trafficking, and seven were victims of ‘subjection to servitude;’ the government was unable to specify a form of trafficking for the remaining 47 victims. More than 70 percent of victims in 2020 were Argentine nationals; foreign national victims (245) hailed predominantly from Latin America and the Caribbean, including Paraguay, Bolivia, and Venezuela, but the government also reported assisting victims from China, Peru, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, among other countries. The government funded repatriation for 10 Argentine victims exploited in trafficking abroad between January and July 2020; it did not report repatriation statistics for the second half of 2020. The National Directorate of Migration established a new anti-trafficking unit to promote identification and referral of trafficking victims amongst migrant populations. The government, with the support of an international organization, expanded use of the virtual platform to compile victim assistance data from both the national and provincial levels, first launched in 2019; 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 a limited understanding of trafficking. 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 federal shelter specifically for foreign victims, regardless of gender or age. Shelters modified their services to comply with pandemic mitigation recommendations, providing staff with personal protective equipment, distributing alcohol gel, and retrofitting vehicles to reduce circulation between driver and passenger spaces. Critically, many shelter facilities reduced occupancy to maintain safe distancing between residents; officials reported these measures greatly increased shelter operating costs during the pandemic. 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. Certain assistance programs required victims to complete complex renewal procedures to maintain eligibility. NGOs expressed concerns for the welfare of trafficking victims in the Undersecretariat of Criminal Policy’s witness protection program. Some government officials acknowledged that the program, which was primarily designed for witnesses of drug trafficking, terrorism, and extortive kidnapping, was ill-suited to the needs of human trafficking victims; in past years, the Ministry of Justice dismissed at least one program administrator accused of sexually harassing protected witnesses, including trafficking victims. 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 courts offered victims participating in trials the option to provide testimony via live video, recordings, or written statements. 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. The government maintained a trust fund for trafficking victims, comprised of traffickers’ forfeited assets and required criminal courts to award victim restitution at the time of traffickers’ convictions. Victims could also file civil suits against their traffickers to receive additional compensation, although victims had limited success in securing compensation through civil suits. Courts granted between 550,000 and 600,000 pesos ($6,160 to $6,720) each in restitution to 10 victims in 2020 and, although a verdict had not been reached, ordered the auction of assets in another case to ensure funds for victim restitution. Despite these cases, observers reported prosecutors and judges inconsistently prioritized financial restitution in trafficking cases. The government struggled to identify and refer victims of forced labor in rural zones. In 2020, the government produced new guidelines to facilitate labor inspectors’ recognition of trafficking indicators and identification of labor trafficking victims; the Ministry of Labor trained its inspectors in accordance with these guidelines in October 2020.