The government modestly increased protection efforts. The government continued to implement a referral mechanism in practice, launched in November 2018, for law enforcement to identify adult victims and refer them to care. Authorities used guidelines and checklists to screen potential victims for indicators of trafficking and referred identified victims to NGOs for assistance. However, experts noted the government lacked a formalized national referral mechanism that includes a wide variety of stakeholders that may come into contact with a potential trafficking victim. Government-funded NGOs provided shelter, medical and psychological care, legal assistance, and German language classes to adult victims, including specialized services for victims with disabilities. A separate referral mechanism for children guided local authorities in identifying and providing services to child victims. One government-funded NGO reported it provided services to 314 female victims and their children in 2020 (336 in 2019), of whom police referred 117 and other government agencies referred 36. Some of these victims may have been children, as the organization provided assistance to women and girls age 15 years and older. Another NGO, which provided government-funded services for male victims, reported assisting 62 victims in 2020, although it did not specify how many of these were government referrals. The government identified 13 Austrian victims under Article 104a and four Austrian victims under Article 217 in 2020; the government identified 34 Austrian victims in 2019. Although identification statistics did not disaggregate labor and sex trafficking cases, the majority of identified victims were exploited in sex trafficking. Experts noted, however, that the relatively low number of identified forced labor cases could be attributed to authorities’ failure to recognize labor trafficking indicators rather than to low prevalence. Authorities reported victim identification was constrained in 2020 due to pandemic-related restrictions on the commercial sex industry; authorities were unable to conduct regular health inspections and provide counseling services, limiting their ability to identify potential victims of trafficking.
The government allocated €1.43 million ($1.76 million) to specialized anti-trafficking NGOs to provide shelter, services, and legal support to victims in 2020, compared with €988,110 ($1.2 million) in 2019. However, the government also allocated €274,590 ($336,920) between April 2019 and December 2019 to an NGO providing specialized services for male victims and €410,000 ($503,070) between June 2018 and December 2019 to support NGO-run counseling centers for male victims and undocumented migrants. Government funding accounted for the bulk of support for these organizations. The city of Vienna funded a government-run center for unaccompanied migrant children, including child trafficking victims, offering legal, medical, psychological, social, and language assistance; the center reported it did not provide assistance to any child trafficking victims in 2020. The government’s anti-trafficking task force published annual guidelines on child victim identification and included these in brochures on children’s rights that were distributed throughout the country in 2020. The government provided training to NGOs working with migrants and asylum-seekers to help them identify trafficking victims among these groups. Law enforcement personnel screened individuals in commercial sex, including in brothels and massage parlors, for indicators of trafficking and monitored websites selling commercial sex to identify victims. The government funded NGOs to provide training on victim identification for law enforcement, labor inspectors, detention and asylum center authorities, border control, revenue officials, and military, diplomatic, and consular personnel.
The law provided for the protection of victims’ rights during criminal proceedings. NGOs were permitted to accompany victims to hearings and interviews. Courts provided trauma-informed methods for presenting evidence and testimony when victims needed protection from traffickers during the investigation and prosecution phases. Victim protection procedures granted victims a 30-day reflection period to decide whether to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers; some NGOs reported concerns about inconsistencies in the reflection period and noted victims were not always informed of this right. Victims’ access to services was not dependent on their willingness to participate in the criminal process. The Ministry of Justice reported providing, via NGOs, psycho-social and legal assistance during criminal proceedings to 150 trafficking victims in 2020 – the same number as in 2019. The provision of legal aid was constrained by gaps in the identification of victims; experts noted cases in which victims were not properly identified and therefore unable to access specialized legal assistance. Foreign trafficking victims from outside the EU had the right to temporary residency, with possible annual extensions, which allowed access to employment; victims from EU member states did not require residence permits. The government granted seven residence permits and extended 18 permits to trafficking victims in 2020, compared with 13 new permits and 24 extensions in 2019. Victims who chose to return to their country of origin received repatriation assistance from government-funded NGOs.
Victims could file civil suits against traffickers for damages and compensation, even in the absence of a criminal prosecution, and could still pursue civil suits in the event of an acquittal in a criminal case. Courts could award restitution upon criminal conviction; in 2020, courts awarded restitution to eight victims in trafficking cases, compared to 25 in 2019. Experts expressed concern that access to compensation and restitution remained rare in trafficking cases; furthermore, compensation awards were unevenly enforced, as it was the victim’s responsibility to enforce the order through a claim with legal authorities. Compensation was also negatively impacted by the return to the victim’s country of origin. The government included the topic of victim compensation in its trainings and seminars for prosecutors and judges. The Ministry of Justice published guidelines for the non-punishment of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Administrative fines for illegal commercial sex or immigration violations were forgiven if the individual was found to be a victim of trafficking. However, gaps in victim identification may have left some victims unidentified in the law enforcement system. Observers noted the non-punishment provision was infrequently applied and cited the lack of a specific legal provision on the non-punishment of victims of trafficking. Experts noted gaps in the government’s referral process for suspected cases of exploitation among asylum-seekers; some migrants who showed signs of trafficking may have been sent to other countries in the EU without receiving services due to the government’s enforcement of EU regulations on asylum-seekers.