The government maintained inadequate victim identification and protection efforts. The government reported police identified 892 victims of exploitation in 2020, including 217 children; however, contrary to prior years, the number of trafficking victims identified by the government was not sufficiently disaggregated and a broader data set was reported, which may have included victims of adult and child sex trafficking. This compared with 175 victims of trafficking, 717 victims of aggravated sexual exploitation, and 39 victims of exploitation in 2019, for a total of 931. Gaps in victim identification remained, as the government did not report identifying any French national or labor trafficking victims. Victim protection data included all French departments and territories, including those overseas. Pandemic lockdowns led to decreased use of bars and nightclubs and the increased use of private locations and the internet as venues for exploitation, which exacerbated vulnerabilities for sex trafficking victims and decreased victim visibility to authorities. The pandemic also exacerbated vulnerabilities for labor trafficking victims through increased isolation of migrant and domestic workers, which complicated detection by officials and NGOs.
The Ministry of Solidarity and Health and the City of Paris provided funding for the Ac-Se system, an NGO-managed network of 50 NGO-run shelters and specialized NGOs assisting adult victims of sex and labor trafficking. Both police and NGOs referred victims to Ac-Se. The government provided Ac-Se with €234,000 ($287,120) in 2020, in addition to an unreported amount of funding it dispersed to individual NGOs supporting the Ac-Se network. This amount compared to €240,000 ($294,480) provided in 2019. In addition to its regular funding, the government provided Ac-Se with an additional €563,000 ($690,800) in November 2020 for an 18-month period to provide additional victim assistance; this funding was confiscated from seized assets of convicted traffickers. However, NGOs criticized the amount of funding generally provided by the government to all NGOs for victim assistance as insufficient and asserted that the government often funded anti-trafficking efforts from the women’s rights budget with little transparency in how much it allocated specifically to human trafficking. NGOs also raised concerns pertaining to the lack of a dedicated budget allocation to NGOs providing victim assistance to trafficking victims, resulting in their need to continually obtain private funding. In addition to victims identified by the government, NGOs reported identifying at least 6,457 human trafficking victims and assisting 2,573 in 2020, but many of the NGOs did not receive government funding and the government did not provide further details. Experts and NGOs expressed concerns regarding the government’s national statistics on victim identification and asserted the scale of human trafficking in France was likely much higher.
Only the police, gendarmerie, judiciary, and labor inspectors could formally identify victims and formal victim identification was dependent upon cooperation with law enforcement. The CNCDH, which functioned as the independent national rapporteur, urged the government to allow formal victim identification without a requirement to cooperate with law enforcement and also by entities other than law enforcement, including by civil society, healthcare workers, and social workers; however, the government did not report efforts to allow other entities to formally identify victims. Further, NGOs reported that recognition as a trafficking victim was difficult; such status offered additional protections and in practice was necessary to obtain asylum or a residence permit, residency papers, healthcare, and housing.
In both its 2013 and 2017 reports, GRETA urged the government to adopt a national identification and referral mechanism. The government has never had a national identification and referral mechanism to ensure uniform and equal treatment of victims and did not take concrete steps in the reporting period to adopt one. However, most ministries and regions had formal procedures for identifying victims and authorities continued to use an NGO-run referral mechanism. Experts, NGOs, and the national rapporteur reported gaps in authorities’ proactive victim identification efforts persisted during the reporting period; they called for improving victim identification as a top priority in the anti-trafficking national action plan. The government assumes the majority of individuals in commercial sex and all foreign adult individuals in commercial sex are trafficking victims, and the government systematically screens this population for trafficking indicators. However, this assumption could have led to a misunderstanding of sex trafficking amongst front-line officials and conflation with commercial sex. Further, authorities often mischaracterized victims of forced criminality as delinquents or illegal workers and consequently excluded them from assistance. Victims of forced labor experienced difficulty in formal recognition as victims.
Both police and NGOs referred victims to Ac-Se. While only partial data on victim assistance was available, government-funded NGOs reported assisting 260 trafficking victims in 2020, an increase compared with 64 victims in 2019, 86 in 2018, and 79 in 2017. Ac-Se provided victims with shelter, legal, medical, and psychological services; in 2020, 48 victims and nine child dependents received shelter and three victims were assisted with voluntary repatriation. This compared with 57 victims, including 12 children, who received shelter and seven who were assisted with voluntary repatriation in 2019. In 2020, a government-funded NGO reported providing assistance to more than 200 victims, including 51 new victims, most of whom were victims of forced labor and domestic servitude. Not all trafficking victims were eligible for admittance into Ac-Se’s shelter program, unless they were in immediate danger or in a highly vulnerable situation that required geographic relocation; NGOs observed that migrants without legal status often struggled to find housing, which increased their risk of exploitation. Although formal victim identification required law enforcement cooperation, victims who chose not to cooperate could still receive free medical attention. Local governments provided French language classes to victims, and some victims could qualify for subsidized housing and job training programs, but the government did not report the number of victims provided with these benefits. The national employment agency provided some foreign victims with an initial stipend of €350 ($429) a month but did not report the number of victims that received this stipend during the reporting period; civil society organizations reported the conditions for being granted a stipend were not uniform and varied by region. Although NGOs sometimes provided psychological support to victims, the government did not fund this service and NGOs raised concerns the government provided little psychological counseling to victims. The central and municipal governments continued to partially fund the operation of a shelter in Paris that could accommodate 12 victims, as well as a small number of emergency apartments external to the Ac-Se system. There were no accommodation centers dedicated to adult male trafficking victims, but communal homes or homeless shelters were sometimes used; however, these accommodations did not take into account the specific needs of trafficking victims. Police referred child trafficking victims to the Child Welfare Services (ASE) system, which provided the children with shelter. However, following a documentary revealing ASE’s past practice of placing child victims alone in hotels, the government ceased this practice in January 2021 and began placing children in secure housing. GRETA and the national rapporteur reported a lack of adequate resources for the special assistance needs of child trafficking victims. To adapt to pandemic-related restrictions, the government found new lodging accommodations for 50 child victims of trafficking. Some shelters were required to limit capacities to adhere to pandemic-related social distancing requirements and ensure the continued safety of victims.
The government had an NGO-run referral program to transfer victims detained, arrested, or placed in protective custody by law enforcement authorities to institutions that provided short-term care. Judges heard criminal trials for trafficking in private at the victim’s request and testimony by video or remotely was also available. To limit re-traumatization, victims usually had access to a psychologist during court proceedings and the law limited the interview of child victims to one time. NGOs noted the government did not consistently provide interpreters to victims or information in a language they understood, the responsibility of which would then pass to the NGO. The government had a witness protection program that trafficking victims could use; however, despite the government reporting that traffickers often threatened trafficking victims and their families to not speak to law enforcement, especially if the trafficker was wealthy, well-connected, or had diplomatic immunity, authorities rarely used the program. The government did not report utilizing the witness protection program for any trafficking victims during the reporting period, which may have decreased the willingness of some victims to cooperate with law enforcement. The CNCDH urged the government to improve assistance provided to victims during their trials, but the government did not make efforts to do so during the reporting period. Victims were entitled to receive a 30-day reflection period during which they could decide whether to lodge a complaint or participate in criminal proceedings against a trafficker; however, some authorities were not familiar with the reflection period and did not offer it.
The government did not report the number of temporary residence permits granted to formally recognized trafficking victims; it issued such permits only when victims cooperated with police investigations or enrolled in the government’s reintegration program, which required ceasing engagement in commercial sex and often required paperwork victims could not obtain. Authorities generally offered permanent residency to trafficking victims following a successful conviction of their trafficker. Trafficking victims were also eligible for international protection under refugee status or subsidiary protection status in cases where victims had a credible fear of retaliation, including from public authorities in their country of origin, if returned; however, the government did not report the number of victims granted such status during the reporting period. The government offered a specialized support program for asylum-seekers who were also victims of violence or human trafficking, but it required the victims to be formally recognized; the program provided secure lodging, psychological support, and a path to request asylum, but the government did not report how many asylum-seekers utilized this program during the reporting period. In response to the pandemic, the government extended the expiration dates of residence permits for asylum-seekers by six months in 2020. The government had internal guidelines to evaluate and process asylum claims on the basis of labor trafficking. A large collective of anti-trafficking NGOs believed the new law on asylum and immigration, which eased restrictions on migrant deportation, limited victims’ ability to receive temporary residence due to new time-bound restrictions on permit applications and more stringent approval criteria. The government reported conducting an unknown number of training sessions for the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons on identifying human trafficking victims and included training on internal guidelines pertaining to protection needs. GRETA reported police arrested and prosecuted child victims of forced begging and forced criminality without screening for trafficking indicators. In 2020, the government did not report uniformly screening irregular migrants, who were vulnerable to trafficking, in Mayotte for trafficking indicators prior to their deportation, which could have left some trafficking victims unidentified. The government also did not report taking steps to address the 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied Comorian children at risk for sex and labor trafficking in the French department of Mayotte by offering protection services such as medical care, shelter, or education. Further, the government did not uniformly screen vulnerable migrants from settlements in Calais prior to their removal, nor allow NGOs the opportunity to do so, which could have left some trafficking victims unidentified. Criminal courts could order traffickers to pay restitution to victims who were citizens of France or when the act was committed on French territory, the European Economic Community (ECC), or had legal immigration status; the government reported awarding restitution to at least three victims in 2020. Victims who were citizens of France, the ECC, or had legal immigration status could also bring a civil suit against a trafficker for damages; however, authorities did not report awarding damage to any victims during the reporting period. Victims lacking legal status were ineligible for restitution or damages. GRETA and NGOs reported victim restitution was rare.