The government maintained efforts to protect victims. Authorities continued to implement a formal victim-centered protocol to guide front-line responders in identifying both sex and labor trafficking victims and referring them to services. However, concerns remained on the thoroughness of their application, especially with vulnerable populations such as undocumented migrants and stateless children. The government identified two Bahamian child victims during the reporting period, down from five victims in 2019 and the same as in 2018. NGOs did not identify any victims, the same as in the previous reporting period. The two identified victims, both 16 years old, returned to their families, and the Department of Social Services provided financial support both to the victims and to their families. Authorities provided care for five victims identified during previous reporting periods, including two victims still receiving support at the end of the reporting period, although efforts to provide care to victims stopped temporarily from late March to mid-April due to pandemic lockdown restrictions. The government’s actual spending on trafficking victims’ care and prevention activities apart from the pandemic was 41,351 Bahamian dollars ($41,351). The government also provided 47,651 Bahamian dollars ($47,651) for four victims for needs resulting from the pandemic, including emergency food assistance, financial assistance for basic needs, and temporary shelter. In 2019, the government gave 69,509 Bahamian dollars ($69,509) to four NGOs that offered services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups, compared to 240,000 Bahamian dollars ($240,000) in 2018, with the decrease due to emergency costs incurred to address the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian. In December 2020, a court awarded a Venezuelan victim 10,000 Bahamian dollars ($10,000) in restitution in a civil suit for the first time. As of the end of the reporting period, the government was still arranging the logistics to deliver the award to the victim, who was in Venezuela. Authorities reported screening individuals for trafficking indicators during routine checks of nightclubs. The government reported it had a formal process to guide officials in transferring victims to institutions that offered short- or long-term care, and it screened all migrants arriving by sea individually upon arrival; normally, migrants apprehended on land were observed for indicators that might warrant further investigation. However, experts reported authorities did not use formal protocols to screen all migrants and continued abuse of migrants—particularly those of Haitian descent—by officials was a cause of concern. The country has an SOP with a detailed, victim-centered approach to the screening process, including the use of qualified interpreters of the same gender to assure reporting and comprehension of all communication. However, reports of inconsistent training of staff on screening for trafficking indicators, and lack of implementation of identification protocols in migrant languages indicated that authorities did not screen all vulnerable individuals, consequently failing to identify and protect any trafficking victims.
The Department of Social Services oversaw the support for identified and potential victims by service providers, attorneys, and law enforcement. The Department provided shelter, food, clothing (inclusive of school uniforms for dependent children), rent, furniture, payment of utility bills, placement in school, medical care, psychological and psychiatric attention as needed, counseling, transportation, assistance with shopping, securing legal documents, résumé preparation, job placement assistance, facilitation of payment of stipends, and wiring of money abroad. The government typically provided most services for victims, but NGOs have in the past assisted in providing services to victims, including meals and water, hygiene supplies, and a non-threatening, neutral environment for authorities to conduct interviews. An NGO could provide counseling, while another NGO could be called upon for short-term accommodations for female victims. The government did not provide a dedicated shelter for trafficking victims; however, the government did provide short-term and long-term accommodations and partnered as needed with an NGO for use as a temporary safe house. Authorities continued to place victims in NGO-managed shelters shared with domestic violence victims. The government reported that it considered victim preference when determining the appropriate shelter, and that victims could choose not to reside in a shelter. The government did not report any cases of victims with disabilities; however, the national anti-trafficking budget included resources to make accommodations, if those services were necessary. Shelters did not restrict the movements of trafficked victims, allowed victims to leave for employment, and provided advisory services. Protection services were not time-limited. The government tailored victim care services to the needs of the victim upon assessment.
Victim participation in human trafficking investigations and prosecutions was voluntary and the law granted the victim immunity from prosecution. As a matter of policy, courts closed trafficking trials and—as the law mandated non-disclosure of victims’ names, under penalty of prosecution—the media could not publish the identity of a victim. Bahamian law permitted victim testimony via live television links and for the reading of written statements into evidence, but this did not happen during the reporting period. Authorities reported they advised victims of their rights with respect to the law, appointed a designated caseworker who provided support for the victim, and provided witness protection. The government additionally gave a police security detail for foreign victims moving to and from the airport and for victims moving to and from the designated shelter, including for court appearances, during which a police officer stayed with the victim. The government also conducted periodic visits to the safe house. The government reported it encouraged victims returning from abroad for trial to bring a family member with them for additional support. The country lacked a visa classification for victims of crime, but foreign victims were entitled to the same assistance and services provided to Bahamian victims. Authorities did not tie benefits to foreign victims’ willingness to cooperate with law enforcement or to testify in court and the outcomes of legal proceedings did not affect victims’ temporary immigration status. Foreign nationals had the option to remain in the jurisdiction with legal status or to return to their country of origin; the government reported it did not deport victims. Foreign victims who decided to stay in the country received assistance in obtaining legal residency for humanitarian purposes, which included a standardized certificate that resembled the asylum certificate but did not identify the holder as a trafficking victim and enabled the holder to work legally. However, foreign victims—particularly irregular migrants—may not have felt comfortable enough to report crimes to law enforcement officers who could identify them as victims. During the reporting period, there were no reported cases of Bahamians being exploited in trafficking abroad and the Bahamian government did not identify any exploited nationals requiring funding for repatriation.